This feature is a Globefish report documenting the tilapia market results for Chinese imports and exports, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

China loses tilapia in cold winter

The intense and long winter is reported to have badly affected tilapia production in China. Observers estimate that production could have dropped by as much as 80%.

Tilapia traders worldwide forecast a significant scarcity this year, which could last for 8-12 months. Consequently, prices have started to rise. Chinese exports of tilapia to certain African markets may be affected until the situation improves. These developments could have a positive influence on Latin American tilapia-producing countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Brazil, which would be able to provide adequate supplies of tilapia, particularly fresh product, at better prices. Suppliers of marine whitefish species, many of which had been substituted by tilapia products in recent times, will also be able to take advantage of the situation.

Chinese tilapia exports very high

In only three years, Chinese tilapia exports grew from 90,000 tonnes in 2004 to exceed 210,000 tonnes in 2007. Total export value reached almost US$500 million in 2007, which compares to US$160 million in 2004. These figures give an idea about the importance of the tilapia industry for total Chinese fish exports, even though in total terms, tilapia makes up for only 5% of total import earnings.

Not surprisingly, the USA is the main importing country of tilapia from China, with 122,000 tonnes in 2007, 17,000 tonnes more than in 2006. Tilapia is the most important item among Chinese fish exports to the US market.

Second major importing country of Chinese tilapia is Mexico, with 39,000 tonnes in 2007, a 20% increase over 2006 and double the 2005 figure. This enormous quantity of tilapia from China has disrupted the local tilapia producing industry, which is not able to compete with the imported product. The average unit value of tilapia exported to Mexico is US$1.80/kg, a figure which shows that there is hardly any room for the Mexican tilapia industry to survive. The only way out seems to be improved genetics for tilapia, and higher quality in the fresh sector.

It is also interesting to note the emergence of Russia as a key buyer of Chinese tilapia, with 19,000 tonnes in 2007, this is almost four times the 2006 figure. The interest of Russia in tilapia from China is paralleled with record imports of pangasius from Vietnam. Russia is an interesting market for whitefish at a competitive price.

Higher prices for tilapia very likely

Due to the dramatic situation in China, tilapia prices are likely to increase sharply. Latin American countries, where tilapia production is booming, are expected to take advantage of the situation and ship increased quantities of tilapia at much higher prices to the US market. Total imports into the US market are likely to decline in the course of 2008. Demand for other fish species might be affected also, with higher prices across the board. The slow expansion of tilapia supplies to the EU market that has been observed in recent months is forecast to come to a sudden end.

May 2008

the Fish Site Editor

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