VIETFISH INTERNATIONAL - Vol 9, Issue 03(47) | May - Jun 2012
The Middle East is a huge market consisting of 15 countries with a total area of 7.59 million square kilometres and a population of nearly 285 million. The region has a large quantity of crude oil and an underdeveloped aquaculture industry, so food import makes an important contribution in meeting the short and long-term demand.
High demand for seafood
The unfavorable geographical conditions plus with inadequate human resource hinder the development of agriculture and fishery industry in the Middle East. The region had to import grains, vegetables, fruits and other agricultural products from all over the world. Seafood products supplied from China, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Viet Nam are sold well here. This source of protein is increasingly prevailing in the diet of local residents.
Viet Nam and the Middle East countries have enjoyed good diplomatic and economic relations in the recent years. Currently, the region is considered a key market for Vietnamese seafood, agricultural products, rubber, textiles, handicrafts, etc.
According to Viet Nam Customs, Viet Nam’s exports of goods to the Middle East amounted to US$2.5 billion in 2011, up 54% year-on-year.
Before 2006, few Middle East countries imported seafood from Viet Nam. However, the local consumers have been increasingly attracted to Vietnamese seafood products, especially Pangasius, which has a mild flavor, low cholesterol and very competitive price compared to the native tilapia and Nile perch.
In 2006, Viet Nam’s total seafood exports to the Middle East hit US$36 million. The figure increased by 185% in 2007 and 296% in 2008.
The explosive increase was partly attributed to trade promotion efforts of Viet Nam. The country’s exporters have actively advertised their products at the region’s trade shows and seminars. In 2008, many Vietnamese seafood processors adopted Halal for their products to enter Islamic markets. In the same year, more than eighty seafood exporters shipped their products to the Middle East. A number of new markets such as Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, etc were opened up.
It is expected that seafood imports into the Middle East will not experience any more explosive growth because they have already been distributed throughout the region. Further increase may come from processed, ready-to-eat and value-added products. Many Vietnamese enterprises have recently exported canned seafood, spring rolls, dumpling, processed squid and octopus to the Middle East in small quantity.
In 2009, the Middle East’s imports of seafood from Viet Nam suffered a decline of nearly 5%, partly due to the unrest in some member countries. Since 2010, the figure bounced back to 16% per year. Today, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, and Qatar are major importers of Vietnamese seafood.
Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia are the three largest buyers, accounting for 60% of the total market share. UAE often serves as a gateway for Vietnamese seafood to access other Middle East countries. Its recent economic growth has also been quite high (10%/year).
In 2011, Viet Nam exported US$60 million worth of seafood to Egypt, US$63 million to Saudi Arabia and US$44 million to the UAE.
The second group included Israel with US$30 million, Lebanon US$23 million, Jordan US$17 million and Iraq US$11 million, etc. Most of importers show a year-on–year increase except for Egypt which decreased by 9%.
Viet Nam ships to the Middle East quite diversified products, including shrimp, Pangasius fillets, squid and octopus, bivalve mollusks, canned and frozen tuna, etc. The largest market share comes to Pangasius fillets, followed by the shrimp and canned tuna. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE proved the most promised market for Vietnamese Pangasius.
In 2011, the Middle East countries imported more than US$178 million worth of Pangasius, accounting for nearly 70% of total market share. Saudi Arabia purchased more than VanUS$59 million, ranking first, followed by Egypt US$38 million, UAE US$31 million, Jordan US$15 million and Lebanon US$13 million.
Shrimp is the second largest seafood item imported into the Middle East. In 2011, sales of this species hit US$35 million, accounting for 13.7% of the total seafood imports from Viet Nam. Egypt was the biggest importer with purchase value of US$18 million, followed by Israel US$4.6 million, Saudi Arabia US$3.7 million, UAE US$ 3.3 million, Lebanon US$2.6 million and Kuwait US$2.2 million.
Shrimp imports to the Middle East were not high, because the product is considered a luxury, which is mainly served in high-class restaurants. Besides, Israel and Iran are major shrimp producers in the world and a large proportion of shrimp suppliers to the region come from these two countries.
Tuna is the third largest seafood item shipped to the Middle East. In 2011, the region imported US$22 million worth of tuna, accounting for 8.4% of total seafood imports from Viet Nam. Iran came first with US$9.7 million, followed by Israel US$5.6 million and Lebanon US$3.4 million. Frozen tuna was popular in both Iran and Israel while Lebanon imported mainly canned tuna.
In the first three months of 2012, the Middle East imported almost US$35 million worth of seafood from Viet Nam, splitting US$21.6 million of Pangasius, US$9 million of shrimp, and US$3.4 million of tuna.
Currently, although seafood exports suffered decline in most markets due to global economic slowdown, Viet Nam still enjoyed a 16% growth rate in 2011.
This year, however, the Middle East countries are expected to face both political and social upheaval, which wither the region’s purchasing power. Moreover, the political unrest will cut back the number of migrant workers, so demand for inexpensive foodstuff is expected to trend down.
Furthermore, it is a challenge to ship to the Middle East by sea while airfreight is expensive. Myanmar has emerged as a weighty seafood supplier to the Middle East. In 2001, its seafood sales to the region hit US$90 million, holding 80% of the country’s total seafood export value.
With large and stable supply, competitive price, and dynamic exporters, Viet Nam can maintain a stable seafood exports to the world market, including the Middle East.
By Phuong Mai