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High-value seafood products (prawns)
High-value seafood products (prawns)


International trade in fish and fishery products has grown substantially over the last decades. Today, more than 30 percent of the fish caught for direct human consumption enters international trade. Developing countries account for approximately 50 percent of global fish exports.

However, many countries, especially developing countries, export mainly raw products and only limited quantities of processed products. The former are in turn processed in industrialized countries. By so doing, these exporting countries are not extracting full benefits from their aquatic resources.

High-value seafood products
High-value seafood products

Consequently, more and more development experts and institutions are advocating the transfer of value addition technologies, know-how and investment capital to these developing countries. This is also attractive in view of the fact that value addition processes generate further employment and hard currency earnings.

However, despite the availability of technology, many projects in value-adding for export collapsed. Careful consideration was not given to the various facets of their feasibility, including quality assurance, marketing, distribution and trade barriers, before embarking on a value-adding fish process.

Possible solutions

Quality assurance

Improving fish utilization and value requires proper quality assurance. Present societal changes have led to the development of outdoor catering, convenience products and food services and require fish products ready to eat or requiring little preparation before serving. However, these products require stringent quality and safety assurance programs throughout the processing and distribution chain. Any shortcoming can have disastrous health and economical consequences, especially that most value-added products will not be cooked or subjected to a treatment before consumption.

Marketing and distribution

In many developed countries, most consumers limit their food shopping to one day per week, mostly for shelf stable, convenience and ready to eat foods. These value added fish products are marketed in big food chains and department stores. Unknown brands of new value added products will have difficulty accessing the shelves of these outlets without substantial investment in marketing and publicity to disseminate the brand image of the product. This is not within the capabilities of many developing countries where the fish exporting industry is fragmented and trade associations and support institutions are not well organized. Presently, most developing countries process value-added products packed under the label of the importer that has a known brand and distribution channels. But, many of these countries are discovering that this market access procedure is very costly.

Trade barriers

Exports of fishery products are still subject to many trade barriers. Tariffs play important roles in strategic business decisions on whether to export unprocessed fish products, which normally have zero tariffs in the importing country, or finished (consumer ready) processed/semi-processed products, which are burdened with prohibitive tariffs. To gain control over revenue, exporting firms need to gain command of significant parts of the value chain for their products, especially the latter stages where significant proportions of the total value-adding occurs. However, moving downstream in the value chain, requires acquiring general and specific knowledge about how and where in the value chain revenues accumulate and values are added. A cost/benefit analysis should be conducted, embracing both macro-economic and micro-economic aspects.

Actions taken

FAO has initiated work in this area to evaluate the distribution of costs/benefits within the food chain, with the view to identify the processes/fish commodities where higher benefits (value, employment) are accrued to the fish industry of developing countries.

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