Canned tuna imports into the EU recovered in late 2008
Ecuador was the leading canned tuna supplier to the EU with its exports significantly higher by 37 per cent to 88 600 tonnes in 2008. However, exports from Thailand, the second largest supplier, dropped 7 per cent to 52 300 tonnes. The Philippines managed to get very close to Thai canned tuna exports to the EU by increasing its exports by 5 per cent to 52 100 tonnes during the period under review.
The slight overall increase in imports was due to higher purchases in the second quarter when prices came down. In fact, high canned tuna prices in the first half of 2008 led to reduced canned tuna imports into the main European markets during this period. Buying interest recovered as prices declined sharply in the last quarter of the year. On an annual basis, however, 2008 imports of canned tuna into some major importing countries were generally lower than in 2007. German imports declined by 5 per cent, French by 22 per cent, and Italian by 15 per cent.
The only exception to this trend was the UK, the main European canned tuna importing country. Imports there went up by 10 per cent to reach a new record of 144 000 tonnes in 2008. The UK thus accounts for about 36 per cent of the whole EU canned tuna import market. Strong increases in imports of canned tuna from the Philippines and Ghana were the main reason for higher UK imports, while Mauritius, the main supplier of canned tuna to the UK market maintained its top position.
The French canned tuna market remains dominated by four countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Spain, Seychelles and Madagascar. Côte d’Ivoire lost ground in 2008, after some recover in the previous year. The country has difficulties in accessing raw material at convenient prices, but exports are likely to increase this year. Spain and Seychelles canned tuna exports to the French market also declined in 2008. However, the sharpest fall was recorded for Madagascar, suffering from lower catches in the Indian Ocean, also due to the presence of pirates in the main tuna catching areas.
Thunnus Overseas Group (TOG) is the leader in the French canned tuna market with 25 per cent of the market share. In 2008, the company processed, packaged and sold about 50 000 tonnes of tuna and generated approximately USD 166 million in revenues and currently employs approximately 3 200 people in the Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar. The company is an aggregation of six operating companies and holdings, including: Pêche et Froid Cote d'Ivoire and SCODI, which are Ivorian tuna processing companies; PFOI, a Madagascar-based tuna processing business; and Pêche et Froid International, Scodi International and Conserverie des Cinqs Oceans, the corresponding marketing and distribution companies. Some of the leading retailing chains in Europe are among TOG's key customers, including Auchan, Carrefour and Leclerc.
Total canned tuna imports into Germany were 80 600 tonnes in 2008, down from 85 100 tonnes in 2007. Ecuador overtook the Philippines as the main supplier to the German canned tuna market in 2008. The reasons for this are manifold: raw material prices for tuna were lower in Ecuador than in Asia during a good part of 2008, thus the country could offer tuna at a lower price than the Asian competitors. In addition, Ecuador is favoured by a zero tariff, while the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have to pay the 20.5 per cent tariff, which makes their product too expensive. In addition the Ecuadorian-German Chamber of Industries and Trade put quite some emphasis on the German market for fishery products lately, and managed to establish good trade connections.
Spain, Italy, France and Portugal are the producers of canned/pouched tuna in the EU, mainly concentrating on high value products. Over the years, canners in these countries have been importing more processed raw materials such as cooked tuna loins and less of whole raw frozen fish to cope with the high production costs. The trend persisted last year despite the economic recession and the rising tuna prices worldwide. The average import price of cooked tuna loins in 2008 was USD 5.92/kg compared to USD 4.98/kg in 2007 and USD 4.10/kg in 2006. Taking advantage of the duty free and ‘no quota’ status, ACP region remains the main supply source. Exports from Asian sources namely Thailand, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Maldives fell behind 2007. But China exported more cooked loins to this market that reached almost 2 000 tonnes - nearly a three fold increase from 2007. Compared to 2007, total imports of whole frozen tuna from third countries were 11 000 tonnes lower in 2008 at 122 200 tonnes; of which 87 200 tonnes were yellowfin and 27 200 tonnes skipjack.
Tuna market unsettled
Prices of canned tuna raw material have experienced various ups and downs in the opening months of the year, going from USD 1 600/tonne in December 2008, down to USD 900/tonne in January 2009, up to USD 1 100/tonne the following months, down to USD 950/tonne at present, but with strong indications of new price hikes in coming months. This situation makes it difficult for producers and traders to agree on a stable price for canned tuna. As some price increases are likely for the end of the year, importers try to buy as much as possible at the present discounted price level.