Major Tilapia Markets Continue to Weaken

International trade stays positive with promising African markets

The weak positions of the USA and EU, the major tilapia markets, continue into the first quarter of 2016. Nevertheless, international trade remained positive. Based on reporting by major markets and producers, total global tilapia exports are estimated to have increased by 18% during the first quarter of 2016, while imports are estimated to have grown by 15% compared with the same period in 2015. In addition to Asia and Latin America, which continue to produce and consume a growing amount of tilapia, African markets are increasingly taking a larger share of exports. Tilapia farming is also proving to play an important role in food security of countries in the Pacific, such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

China

Total exports of Chinese frozen tilapia experienced a year-on-year 3% decline in volume during the first quarter of 2016 mainly due to lower exports of frozen fillets (-13%). However, exports of breaded fillets and whole frozen tilapia were up by 9.8% and 2.4% respectively.

In terms of prices, average export prices of frozen tilapia in 2016 weakened further for all product groups. Export prices of frozen fillets were down 14.4% to USD 3.6 per kg, whole frozen by 6.5% to USD 2.04 per kg and breaded fillets by 11.8% to USD 3.86 per kg.

The USA remains the main market for Chinese frozen tilapia. In a new development however, Côte d’Ivoire overtook the USA as the largest Chinese market for whole frozen tilapia by importing 6 425 tonnes from China during the first quarter of 2016. This was an enormous 307% increase from the same period in 2015. Other African markets experiencing growth in Chinese whole frozen tilapia include Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. Although average export prices to these African markets declined during the period under review, these markets paid higher prices (USD 2.20-2.60 per kg) compared with the US market (USD 1.79 per kg) due to strong demand, higher import tariffs and more nascent trade ties. It is important to note that imported tilapia represents a challenge for the development of domestic tilapia aquaculture in Africa.

For frozen fillets, which make up 40% of Chinese tilapia trade, exports declined to most markets including the USA. Notably, there was positive growth in exports to Iran, which indicates its potential as a growing market for tilapia fillets. Chinese exports of frozen fillets to Iran reached 3 600 tonnes during the 2016 first quarter, 59% up from the same period in 2015. The market has turned to tilapia as a cheaper source of frozen fish fillets compared with the popular New Zealand hoki.

In contrast, Chinese exports of frozen breaded tilapia experienced positive growth (+9.8%) into the main markets of Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo and Kenya.

USA

Total tilapia imports into the US market during the first quarter of 2016 were 14% lower in terms of volume and 24% less in value terms compared with the same period of last year. 61 400 tonnes were shipped into the country valued at USD 247 976 million.

During the first three months of the year, China as usual remained the main tilapia supplier to the USA with 46 700 tonnes imported worth USD 166 838 million. These figures demonstrate a year-on-year decrease of 17% in volume and 29% value. The product mainly imported was frozen.
Other important suppliers, such as Honduras, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Mexico also registered drops in shipments to the USA, while Colombian exports of tilapia during January-March 2016 rose by 11.6% volume wise and 10% value wise.

Colombia’s interest in the US market was demonstrated during the Seafood Expo North America 2016 in Boston where 14 Colombian companies participated. The potential growth of Colombia as a tilapia supplier to the US market is largely driven by the Free Trade Agreement signed three years ago. Colombia is also targeting other potential markets such as Chile, Spain, France, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Poland.
For now, Honduras maintains its leadership in the Latin American region as the largest exporter of fresh tilapia to the USA, despite the drop in production volume as a result of the drought caused by El Niño.

EU

The weak demand in the EU persisted during the first quarter of 2016 as the EU imported 15.9% less total frozen tilapia compared with the same period in 2015. In total, the EU imported 6 600 tonnes of tilapia during this period. Both categories of frozen fillets and whole frozen tilapia, which take up almost equal shares, experienced declines of 7.3% and 26.4% respectively. Within the EU, Spain imports the largest volume of tilapia, mostly fillets although like elsewhere in the EU, imports declined during the review period.

Asia remains the main supply source to the EU, with the top five suppliers being China, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan Province of China making up nearly 99% of the total. Frozen tilapia fillets from Taiwan Province of China fetch premium prices due to high quality. In the whole frozen category, imports increased from Bangladesh, with this tilapia primarily consumed by the ethnic population of Bangladeshi residents in the EU.

Taiwan Province of China
In the first quarter of 2016, total exports of frozen tilapia from Taiwan Province of China experienced 18% growth compared with the same period in 2015 to total 6 000 tonnes. The whole frozen tilapia makes up 90% of total frozen tilapia exports, with the first quarter showing 20% growth in this product category for exports to the major markets, namely the USA and the Middle East. Together, the US and Middle Eastern markets took an 88% market share of whole frozen tilapia exports from Taiwan Province of China. In contrast, frozen tilapia fillet exports experienced a marginal decline (-0.48%). Main markets for this product category are the USA, Republic of Korea, Canada and Japan.

Outlook
Despite weakening in the major markets, the outlook seems promising amidst production problems in China as demand continues to be strong in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The species is also growing in importance for food security in the Pacific and the some parts of West Asia.

Source: FAO

The report analyses the tilapia market situation over the period January-June 2016 

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