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GLOBEFISH - Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade

Domestic markets remain firm, Chinese tilapia competes with pangasius


The report analyses the market situation until September 2017 

In the first nine months of 2017, global trade of tilapia declined by about 6 percent. Some of the loss in export markets was compensated by growing demand in domestic markets of producing countries. Despite its decreased demand, the United States of America remains the largest market for tilapia. The bad press of Chinese tilapia in the US market and the increasing competition with pangasius in the Chinese market are among the factors that have contributed to the slowdown in trading. There appears to be some recovery of the EU28 market, which however is still rather small. FAO continues to monitor the situation on Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV), working with governments and development partners, searching for resources that can be explored in order to assist FAO member countries to address TiLV. There has not been much update on the situation except a recent announcement that Egypt is free from the TiLV. TiLV continues to be a concern among main producing nations, although active surveillance is being conducted.


Total Chinese exports of frozen tilapia continued the growth of the first quarter of 2017 with a 4.4 percent increase in exports during the first nine months of 2017 compared to 2016. The frozen breaded fillet category appeared to grow at a faster pace (+19.3 percent) compared with the whole frozen tilapia (+3 percent), while exports of frozen fillet continued to decline (-5.3 percent). China has been aggressively supplying whole frozen tilapia to the African markets. Approximately 30 percent of the total frozen tilapia from China entered African markets during the review period.

Additionally the Chinese domestic market is beginning to face competition with growing imports of pangasius, which have become popular. Tilapia farmers in China are reported to be switching to pangasius due to the growing domestic demand driven primarily by the lower prices compared to tilapia and highly sought after by the foodservice sector.

United States of America

During the first three quarters of 2017, demand for tilapia continued to weaken in the US market, and total imports of frozen tilapia fell by 13 percent, compared to the same period in 2016. US imports dropped for frozen fillet and whole frozen categories.

China continued as the main supplier of tilapia to the US market, notwithstanding the drop in imports from China due to the weakening demand in the United States of America. .

During the review period, there was an increase in US imports of whole frozen tilapia from other suppliers, namely Thailand, Viet Nam, India and Bangladesh. In the US market, there was also more frozen fillet from Latin American countries like Ecuador, Honduras and Panama, even though these quantities are marginal compared to those from Chinese and other Asian suppliers.

Latin America

Latin America is increasingly perceptive of the importance of tilapia and its characteristics. Stakeholders are working hard to increase its production and exports.

In Colombia, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture presented a working plan to increase aquaculture exports, particularly tilapia. The first step consists of five technical assistance agreements to prepare the exportable supply of 735 small tilapia producers. In addition, the government presented the first group of 33 fish production units that received certification by the sector for best aquaculture practices, awarded by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA). This could represent an advantage for sales in the international markets, especially the United States of America and Canada.

In Mexico, the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries (CONAPESCA), together with Worldfish, the Tilapia Network Mexico, and producers, researchers and marketers, has been designing strategies to promote the development of tilapia. CONAPESCA emphasized that tilapia was the top species in volume production in Mexican aquaculture in 2016, exceeding 152 000 tones. Mexico has conditions to grow even more in aquaculture production and there are special incentives for both commercial aquaculture of inland waters and for small rural aquaculture projects. Presently, however, Mexico is an important outlet for tilapia, with imports of some 68 000 tonnes of tilapia product (mainly frozen fillets) in 2016, and on a par imports in 2017.

Honduras continues to lead exports of fresh and chilled tilapia fillets to the US market holding a third of the market share, despite registering decreases in terms of value (-14.5 percent) and volume (-8.9 percent) in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016.

European Union (Member Organizations)

Positive market trends since the previous reporting period continued in the EU28, as total tilapia imports increased by 8.4 percent during the first nine months of 2017, compared with 2016, to reach approximately 21 000 tonnes. The growth was more prominent in the frozen fillet category (+13 percent), continuously encouraged by the declining average import prices to USD 3.10 per kg (-9 percent). Imports of whole frozen tilapia increased by 3 percent, while average import prices were down by 2 percent from 2016.

China was the leading supplier for both categories, although it supplied less whole frozen tilapia during the review period. Viet Nam was the second largest source of tilapia imports to the EU28. Premium range tilapia was sourced from Indonesia and Taiwan Province of China, with average import prices of USD 5.50 per kg and 12.60 per kg, respectively.

Asia and other markets

Approximately 95 percent of the global tilapia exports (223 600 tonnes) originate in Asia, with China (mainland and Taiwan Province of China) as the lead supplier, followed by Indonesia. The region also absorbed a significant amount of its own production into its domestic market.

After the United States of America as the single largest import market for tilapia, Latin America is next followed by Africa. During the review period, Latin American countries imported close to 58 000 tonnes of tilapia, 2.7 percent more than in 2016. African imports declined by 8.9 percent to 31 700 tonnes, though this volume was nearly the double of 2015 imports. The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation continue to be potential market areas with a 67 percent increase into Russia. 

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