Facilitating market access for producers: addressing market access requirements, evolving consumer needs and trends in product development and distribution

The market for fish and fisheries products is a globalised market with close to 40 percent of total production (capture fisheries + aquaculture) entering international trade. Not only is this share higher than for other food or agricultural products, so is the role of developing-country exporters in total exports (around 50 percent), underscoring the sector’s importance in contributing to local, regional and international food security in general and as a generator of economic activity, employment and of net export revenue to the developing world in particular.

Total world fish production has grown to 143 million tonnes, of which 53 million tonnes come from aquaculture. For 2009 the contribution of aquaculture to the supply of fish and fishery products for human consumption (excluding fishmeal) is estimated to have reached 45 percent of the total. The rise of aquaculture in production and trade is having a significant impact on prices, product development, distribution and consumption patterns. The exact share of aquaculture in trade remains unknown, given that international statistics do not distinguish between the two origins. 

There are large regional differences in fish consumption per capita, but also within regions. In general, urbanisation and the growth of modern distribution channels for food have increased the potential availability of fish to most of the world’s consumers. Economic and cultural factors continue to influence strongly the level of fish consumption.

International trade in fish and fishery products has grown strongly over the last decades. Despite the recent contraction in consumer spending, the long-term trend for fish trade remains positive, with a rising share of both developed and developing country production entering international markets. The potential for increased demand offers significant opportunities to aquaculture producers but also challenges their ability to find innovative ways to supply markets with products aimed at satisfying consumer needs. This could include new technology to provide more targeted portion sizes, taste varieties as well as innovative packaging and communication strategies. Post-harvest losses could also be reduced in the future.

Fish imports are mostly by developed countries, now responsible for 77 percent of the total import value (2008). This dominance presents a challenge to exporters from developing countries in particular, as adhering to market access requirements becomes a prerequisite for entering international markets. In addition the changing nature of these market access requirements, including the emergence of private and voluntary standards and requests for certification and labels for various purposes, put additional pressure on producers, processors and exporters, without necessarily offering higher prices to offset the additional costs incurred. Of note is also the rise in consumption and imports in emerging economies as their purchasing power increase and middle-class consumers adopt international food habits and purchasing practices.

Certification schemes for both wild and farmed products are gaining market share in many developed country markets. However, consumer confusion is also increasing given the often diverging claims represented by many of the schemes.

In general, the long-term rise in aggregate trade values and volumes for all commodities reflects the increasing globalisation of the fisheries value chain. Production and processing is outsourced to Asia and, to a lesser degree, Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa and Central America. This includes the rising share of aquaculture production in developing countries. Outsourcing of processing takes place both at the regional and global levels, depending on the product form, labour costs and transportation time. In general, labour cost differences play a much larger role than transportation issues. At the same time, the growth of global distribution channels through large retailers has furthered this development.

The newly developed FAO Fish Price Index shows quite separate price developments over time for captured fisheries and for aquaculture; the former increased significantly in the 2002–2008 period whereas aquaculture prices, despite some firming during the same period, are indeed lower today than they were 10 years ago. The main reason is probably related to the cost of input factors; capture fisheries are frequently energy and capital intensive, whereas aquaculture has benefited to a larger degree from technological improvements, increased yields in production, and improved logistics and distribution systems. Thanks to its growing volumes, aquaculture producers also increasingly benefit from economies of scale.

The role of the retail sector within the distribution channel continues to be debated, especially its negotiating power on prices. Aquaculture products, however, have certain advantages over wild products that increase their share of supermarket sales. In the future markets are more likely to distinguish between the two origins. Consumers are increasingly concerned about sustainability issues, especially overfishing. Global warming is also a growing concern. Air transportation of food is increasingly questioned. Health and well-being are other factors influencing consumption decisions; this explains in part the rise of the organic food sector. The principal purchasing parameters among consumers remain, however, price and food safety. The perceived benefit of fish consumption is strong in consumers’ minds.

International fish trade is governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which now practically includes all major fish-producing, importing and exporting countries. Membership in the organisation is a prerequisite for having access to its Dispute Settlement Mechanism, which increasingly has been used to solve disputes involving both wild and farmed fisheries products.

In a not too distant future, aquaculture’s share of total supply for human consumption will rise to somewhere between 60 and 70 percent. This will have a profound impact on the sector’s ability to shape world markets in areas of pricing, product development, distribution and consumption; but it will also challenge the sector’s ability to respond successfully to evolving consumer needs. The potential for growth and economic success is evident; so are the many challenges presented to the world’s aquaculture producers.


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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.