Considerable growth in global exports of bananas in 2017

The global export of bananas grew considerably last year. With an estimated 20.5 million tonnes, the production countries exported about ten per cent more bananas than in 2016. This includes approximately one million tonnes of plantains (cooking bananas).

Over the past ten years, banana exports grew on average by more than half a million tonnes per year. Countries in Latin America are the most important. The share of these countries has declined somewhat in total, from 81 per cent ten years ago to 78 per cent now. Ecuador is by far the most important banana exporter. This country’s share always fluctuates around about one-third of the market. Guatemala comes second. This country’s share increased, from nine per cent ten years ago to 13 per cent now. Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Colombia are the other major export countries, although these three have seen their share dropping. The top five is good for about 80 per cent of the total. In small export countries, the growth of Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Peru are remarkable.

Bananas have two important trade flows, from Latin American countries to the EU and to North America. Both represent about a quarter of the total, but the importance of both flows declined somewhat in the past ten years despite increasing in absolute amounts. The Latin American countries started focusing more on export to countries in their own region and to Southeast Asia.

Twenty kilograms per world citizen
On the net side, much more than half of global trade in bananas is focused on the EU and the US. The major global import countries are: the US, Germany, Russia, Belgium, the UK, China, Japan, and for some years now, the Netherlands. EU countries and the US re-export many bananas to other countries in the EU and Canada, respectively.

The entire EU banana market is about six million tonnes in size. On average, EU citizens (511 million in 2017) consume 11.7 kilograms of bananas per year. For comparison: in the US (320 million inhabitants) that is 12.7 kilograms, and in Russia (143 million inhabitants) that’s 10.5 kilograms. Assuming a global production of 148 million tonnes (113 bananas and 35 plantains; source: FAO) and a global population of 7 billion inhabitants, 21 kilograms of bananas are available on average per world citizen.

Exports of major producers grew less than for the smaller players 
For that matter, the growth of the banana trade is falling behind the growth of the total export of fresh fruit. On average, that increased by 3.3 per cent per year in the past ten years. The growth for bananas was 2.5 per cent per year on average. Other major fruit products such as apples and oranges also had their growth falling behind the total growth of the global fruit export. The same can also be seen in the export of fresh vegetables. The growth (in percentages) of global export of important products such as onions and tomatoes is falling behind the growth of total global vegetable export.

The Netherlands imported one million tonnes
With the arrival of banana transhipments in Vlissingen, the Netherlands is once again participating as an import country for bananas. Based on figures by Eurostat, the import increased to around one million tonnes, compared to 850,000 tonnes in 2016 and 750,000 tonnes in 2015. In 2010, it concerned 275,000 tonnes. In 2017, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, Belgium (re-export), Ecuador and Germany (re-export) were the most important suppliers. Banana import also increased considerably from Guatemala. Until recently, Panama hardly exported bananas to the Netherlands. Until May 2015, Germany was the most important (direct) buyer. A few years ago, many Panamanian bananas were also shipped directly to Sweden.

According to Eurostat, the re-export of bananas from the Netherlands increased considerably in proportion. In 2017, it concerned more than 700,000 tonnes, compared to 540,000 tonnes in 2016 and 480,000 tonnes in 2015. More than 40 per cent of re-export is shipped to Germany, followed at a distance by Belgium, Poland and Austria.

Belgium largest, although imports are stagnating
Belgium remains well ahead of the Netherlands for the transhipment of bananas in the EU. However, the import of bananas in Belgium is stagnating at a level of roughly 1.4 million tonnes. With 1.45 million tonnes. 2017 was a record year, but not by much, the previous record was 1.40 million tonnes in 2013.

Colombia is the most important banana supplier of Belgium. According to Eurostat, it concerned 510,000 tonnes in import last year. This was more than in previous years, but in the past, more was imported by Belgium from Colombia. The import from Costa Rica increased considerably, to 250,000 tonnes. The import from Ecuador continues to decrease: in 2017 it dropped to 180,000 tonnes. On the other hand, more is imported from Cameroon and the Netherlands. The import from Panama dropped completely in 2017.

EU banana market grows to six million tonnes
The entire EU banana market is now about six million tonnes in size. In ten years the market has grown by one million tonnes. A considerable growth of as much as seven per cent was seen in 2017. Since 2016, Colombia has been the most important supplier of the EU, but the import from Ecuador, the largest until 2015, is practically the same in size. Last year, about 1.5 million tonnes was imported from both countries. Combined, they’re therefore good for half the EU banana market.

Colombia most important for EU, number five globally
Colombia might be the most important supplier of bananas to the EU, globally this country is the fifth banana exporter. The EU’s share in total banana export of Colombia is about 80 per cent. The remainder is sent to the US.

Colombian bananas are mostly shipped to Belgium in the EU, but the UK is a close second. For Belgium, Colombia has been a stable supplier for a long time now. In the UK, the import of Colombian bananas is growing.

Regarding Germany, besides direct import of bananas from Colombia, much product from that country enters Germany through other EU countries. The direct import in 2017 was allegedly only 85,000 tonnes, and 370,000 tonnes of Colombian bananas were imported by Germany via other countries.

Ecuador by far the most important globally
Ecuadorian bananas are more spread out when arriving in the EU. According to Eurostat, most arrived in Germany last year, followed by Italy, and only then by Belgium.Quite a number of Ecuadorian bananas also arrived in Poland. Besides direct import of bananas from Ecuador in Germany, about 100,000 tonnes arrived in that country via other countries in 2017. Ecuador is perhaps not the largest in the EU, globally it’s by far the most important banana exporter. In the past year, export increased by about ten per cent, to 6.8 million tonnes. 

The most important buyer is Russia. Ecuadorian bananas practically had a position of monopoly in that country. In 2017, the Russian import of bananas from Ecuador grew by at least ten per cent to 1.48 million tonnes. According to American import statistics, the import of bananas from Ecuador was quite a bit smaller in 2017 than in previous years. A large number of countries has filled the gap, particularly Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Additionally, Ecuador also sells fair amounts of bananas in countries in their own region, and in Southeast Asia and the Gulf states. Besides bananas, Ecuador also exports a modest amount of plantains (200,000 tonnes).

Half of Costa Rican export to EU
Globally, Costa Rica is the fourth exporter, and the third in the EU. Just over half the export of this country is focused on the EU. As a separate country, the US is the most important buyer of Costa Rican bananas. According to Eurostat, Belgium is the most important buyer in the EU, followed by the UK and Italy. In total, Costa Rica exported more than 2.5 million tonnes of bananas in 2017. That is ten per cent more than in 2016.

On the European banana market, Guatemala is a modest player. In 2017, 115,000 tonnes were imported by the EU from that country. More than 80 per cent of the export is focused on the US. Of the total export, more than 200,000 tonnes consists of plantains.

Globally, the Philippines is fifth on the list of importers. Bananas from this country are mostly sold in countries in the region, particularly Japan and China. Additionally, quite a number of them are shipped to the Gulf states.

Regarding the slightly less important banana exporters, it’s remarkable that the export from Honduras, Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic, Cameroon, Bolivia, India and Nicaragua decreased in 2017. The countries exporting more and more bananas in recent years are Mexico and Peru, although they only play a modest part in the grand scheme with an export of 600,000 and 205,000 tonnes respectively.

For more information:
Jan Kees Boon
Fruit and Vegetable Facts

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