Tunisia with a market share of 48 percent and Algeria with 20 percent are the EU's main suppliers (Figure 7 and Table 2). These two countries mainly export the deglet nour variety. They also ship small quantities of common dates (kenta, alligh, and kouat alligh).
Tunisia is the world-leading producer of deglet nour. It possesses approximately 50 percent of the world's deglet nour palm trees. The official production Figure in 2001 was 107 000 tonnes for all varieties, of which about two third are deglet nour (Fruitrop 2001). Significant investments in modern deglet nour plantations and an aggressive marketing strategy have led to a steady increase in exports. While exports ranged between 15 000 and 20 000 tonnes in the first half of the 1990s, they were above 25 000 tonnes in 2000 (Figure 8) and even reached a record level of 27 000 tonnes in 2001. Tunisia has been the main beneficiary of the rise in EU imported quantities seen in section 1. However, the value of exports has not enjoyed the same growth due to falling export prices (Figure 9).
Although Tunisia accounts for only 2 percent of world date production, its share of global exports in value is 21 percent. It represents 55 percent of EU imports in value. Tunisia exports about the same quantity of processed and natural dates. The recent liberalization of the export date sector has led to the emergence of a multitude of smaller exporters. According to some importers, this development has had an adverse effect on prices. Tunisia's main clients are, by order of decreasing importance, France (11 000 to 12 000 tonnes per year, i.e. almost half of its exports to the EU), Italy (over 5 000 tonnes per year), Spain (about 3 500 tonnes), Germany (3 000 tonnes) and the United Kingdom (1 200 to 1 300 tonnes).
Algeria is the world second largest producer of deglet nour (1 million trees). The official production Figure in 2000 was 365 000 tonnes for all varieties. Algeria accounts for 17 percent of EU imports in value. The liberalization and privatisation of the date sector has had a positive impact on exports. Algeria exports more natural dates than processed dates, as there is a lack of processing capacity. The quasi-totality of Algerian dates is destined for France. After a period of growth in the early 1990s, Algeria's exports to the EU seem to have reached a plateau at some 10 000 tonnes since 1997. There was even a marked fall to 7 000 tonnes in 2001. Import prices of Algerian dates have followed the same declining trend as those of Tunisian dates.
Iran has traditionally been the EU's third supplier, just behind Algeria. However, it took over Algeria as the second largest EU supplier in 2001 with over 10 000 tonnes. It is the leading date supplier in the United Kingdom, which absorbed some 60 percent of its exports to the EU (the UK imported 6 600 tonnes of Iranian dates in 2001). Its other two largest clients are Germany and Denmark. Iran is the second largest date producer in the world with some 900 000 tonnes, just after Egypt. It exports common dates (mozafati, sayer and zahedi) at very low prices. It accounts for 6 percent of EU imports in value. It has taken advantage of the fall in Iraq's exports after 1991 to increase its shipments to Europe as well as to other regions.
Israel produces very small quantities of dates (production was estimated at 9 500 tonnes in 2001).
However, its exports to Europe have increased over the past 10 years, reaching 4 300 tonnes in 2001. It accounts for 14 percent of EU imports in value. Its main clients are France (1 200 to 1 400 tonnes per year in 2000-2001), the UK (700-1000 tonnes), Spain (800-900 tonnes) and Italy (400-700 tonnes). Israel exports the mejool, deglet nour, hayani and bahri varieties. It is the leading supplier of mejool and the only supplier of hayani. There are plans to increase mejool production to 3 000 tonnes in 2003-2004.
The United States produces dates in California. Output has decreased in recent years and stood at 16 000 tonnes in 2001. The United States chiefly exports deglet nour and mejool dates to the EU. Their shipments to the EU have been decreasing since 1995 as their deglet nour dates face strong competition from North African origins. In 2001 they were down to just over 1 000 tonnes. Exporters tend to replace deglet nour with mejool, which faces less competition and fetches higher prices.
Pakistan is the world's fourth largest date producer with over half a million tonnes in 2000. It exports common dates to Europe and compete directly with Iran on the same markets ( mainly the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark). Pakistani supplies to the EU have been relatively stable and low over the late 1990s, ranging between 1 700 and 1 800 tonnes annually. In 2001 they fell to 800 tonnes, as Iran increased its market share in the UK, Germany and Denmark.
Other suppliers of smaller quantities to the EU include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey.