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Dutch role in global apple trade ever smaller

The global trade in apples has grown by almost 1.5 million tonnes in ten years, but is now stagnating at a level of around nine million tonnes. The FAO estimates that production of apples is around 85 million tonnes. Of that, about ten per cent is traded internationally. It’s noticeable that (estimated) production has grown considerably in China, while the situation has been stable in all other countries combined for a long time. By now, nearly as many apples are produced in China (40 million tonnes) as there are in the rest of the world.

Most traded by EU countries, primarily mutually
In the international trade of apples, EU countries are dominant. Last year, EU countries were good for 45 per cent of international trade. In ten years, the EU share hasn’t changed much. The largest share of EU trade is mutually among the partners. That has always been the case, but while total export increased, internal trade in the EU remained at practically the same level. The export increase of EU countries was therefore realised outside the EU. Of the total global trade, 25 per cent of trade nowadays is among EU countries themselves (33 per cent ten years ago). In recent years (despite the boycott) many apples were exported to Russia through former Soviet Republics. In the past year, that stream amounted to 14 per cent of total global trade. In absolute quantities, it amounted to more than 700,000 tonnes in 2016. The sales flow will dry up once Russia starts paying stricter attention to the country of origin. It won’t be easy to find new markets for similar amounts. Figures from early 2017, however, show more Polish apples went to Belarus again, compared to early 2016, but it’s uncertain how long this can be kept up.

Italy finds different sales markets
In 2016 and early in 2017, EU countries, and Italy in particular, managed to sell large amounts (2016: 310,000 tonnes) in Africa (mostly Egypt). Additionally, 180,000 tonnes of Italian and French apples were sold in the Gulf states last year. Besides, 155,000 tonnes of mostly Polish and Italian apples were sold in various other European countries. 

Regions in which the EU countries sold smaller quantities in 2016, were: Western Asia (85,000 tonnes), Latin America (81,000 tonnes) and South and East Asia (73,000 tonnes). Italy is the most important EU supplier to these regions, followed by France and then Spain, Greece, Poland and Belgium. From or through the Netherlands, hardly any apples are sent to destinations further away. At the start of this year, many more apples than previously were shipped to India. Much was imported by India especially from China: in the first quarter of 2017 almost 80,000 tonnes. Other important suppliers were the US (25,000 tonnes), Italy (9,000), Belgium (3,800) and Poland (2,600).

The Netherlands losing importance
The Netherlands is dropping ever more as (re)exporter of apples. In ten years, the export of Dutch apples nearly halved: from 118,000 tonnes in 2005 to only 64,000 tonnes in 2016. Even more dramatic is the role of the Netherlands as re-export country of apples. Ten years ago, about 300,000 tonnes of apples were exported to other countries via the Netherlands. Now it’s no more than about 130,000 tonnes. 

On the list of export countries of apples, the Netherlands is the country showing the largest absolute decline of (re)export compared to ten years ago. That development has continued in recent years.

Number of countries Southern Hemisphere also losing ground
It’s also noticeable that Belgium is exporting less and less. Other countries exporting fewer apples are: Argentina, Chile and South Africa. The Southern Hemisphere exporters traditionally sell their product in Europe mostly via the Netherlands and Belgium, and that flow has decreased in importance considerably. For now, these southern countries are struggling to find alternative sales markets. New Zealand has succeeded in this, because the apple export of this country continues to grow. Italy and Poland are the most important exporters globally. The export of these two countries has grown significantly, but Poland is in trouble after the (partial) loss of the Russian market. The export of number three, China, is stagnating.

Increase export apples from New Zealand
That Belarus and Lithuania are major growth markets regarding the export of apples is entirely due to the re-export to Russia. Other growers are, as said before, Italy and Poland, but Serbia, Turkey, Greece and New Zealand have also done well in recent years.

Belarus and Lithuania are the countries showing the largest growth regarding import because of re-export to Russia. Other growers are Egypt, Myanmar and Romania. Because of the boycott, import dropped sharply in Russia, and the Netherlands is also importing fewer and fewer apples.

China big in pears
Globally, the export of pears has also increased, from 2.35 million tonnes ten years ago to 2.75 million tonnes now, although the growth stagnated a bit in the past three years. About ten per cent of the pear production is traded internationally as well. For pears, China is also producing more and more, while production is stable in the rest of the world. China alone produces 18 million tonnes, which is considerably more than the rest of the world (8 million tonnes). 

Most trade in pears by EU countries
The pattern of trade flows shows many similarities with those of apples. The EU countries combined are good for about 45 per cent of international trade. The mutual trade of pears is even more important than that of apples. A third of global trade occurs within the EU. Internal trade among countries in South and East Asia is the other important flow, with a share of 14 per cent of global trade. This is followed by internal trade among countries in Latin America. Only then does a flow to another region follow, from EU countries to Russia. 

The export of Dutch pears fluctuates, but is fairly stable at a level around 200,000 tonnes. The import, and therefore also re-export, reached a record around 2010, which then started gradually declining. In 2016, the Netherlands only imported 130,000 tonnes of pears, while they imported about 185,000 tonnes around the peak in 2008 and 2009.

Recovery of exports in China
China is the most important pear export globally, although it started decreasing. In the past year, however, export showed a considerable recovery. In the past year, China managed to export 450,000 tonnes of pears, mostly to countries in the region. During the first quarter of 2017, Chinese export of pears was going well again, and with 125,000 tonnes, they exported almost 20 per cent more than the year before. The majority of the pears is shipped to countries in the region.

Belgium is second export country globally in 2016
Until 2014, Argentina was the most important export country globally, but export dropped significantly, from about 450,000 tonnes to 310,000 tonnes in 2016. In the past year, Belgium was the number two pear exporter. In the past three years, Belgium managed to export more than 300,000 tonnes of pears each year. Except for a (small) share of re-export, it concerns Belgian pears. The import of pears in Belgium is not very large, between 50 and 60,000 tonnes. The pear export from South Africa is going well, and that of Chile is stable.

Russia still the largest
Despite the boycott, Russia also remained the most important pear importer in the past year, although they imported considerably less than in previous years. Brazil is second, with imports from mostly Argentina, although import from Portugal and Spain is also worth mentioning. Germany and the UK are also important, stable import countries. During the first half of this year, a recovery of pear import in Russia from Argentina, South Africa and Chile can be seen.

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