Europa y en especial la Unión Europea (UE) constituyen un mercado clave para los exportadores de dátiles. Aun cuando las importaciones de la UE hoy sólo representan el 10 por ciento de las compras mundiales en función del volumen, esta cifra equivale a cerca del 30 por ciento de su valor total. Esta situación deja en evidencia que los precios de las importaciones de la UE son comparativamente mucho más elevados que el promedio internacional. Con todo, el valor de las importaciones de la UE en cierta forma se ha estancado durante la década recién pasada y los precios han tendido a la baja desde 1996. A la luz de esta circunstancia, es de vital importancia que los países exportadores logren desarrollar otros productos a partir de la palma datilera que les permitan remontar el valor de sus exportaciones.
Con miras a poner en marcha esta iniciativa, la FAO contrató a un consultor especializado para que se abocara al estudio del potencial de diversas variedades de dátiles (incluidas las “no tradicionales”) al interior del mercado europeo. El estudio arrojó que existe la posibilidad de elevar las importaciones de dátiles de la variedad deglet noor (u otros tipos de textura y sabor similares), siempre y cuando se cumpla con medidas estrictas de calidad (entre otras, bajos niveles de infestación), embalaje y rastreabilidad. No obstante, no es esperable que los precios registren un alza sustancial respecto de los niveles de hoy en día. La variedad medjool ha despertado gran interés en el Reino Unido y Francia y registra precios elevados. En apariencia, podría tener buenas perspectivas de mercado, si bien deberá hacer frente a restricciones logísticas como consecuencia del bajo volumen de su oferta y al escepticismo del mercado minorista que aún resta por resolver. Distinta es la situación de las variedades hayani y bahri, ya que su potencial se vislumbra restringido a un pequeño mercado étnico.
This paper was prepared for the International Date Palm Forum, Abu Dhabi, UAE, 15-17 September 2002. It is based on statistical data taken from the FAOSTAT database and a survey of importers carried out by a specialized consultant in early 2000.
1 OVERVIEW OF DATE IMPORTS AND EXPORTS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU)1
The EU is an important market in terms of value, even though it imports relatively small quantities of dates. Compared with over half a million metric tonnes imported every year in the world, the EU accounts for 10 percent of the total with some 50 000 tonnes (excluding intra-EU trade). However, it accounts for approximately 30 percent of global date imports in value with a net average of US$85 million per year in the 1999-2000 period.
Imports of dates into the EU were relatively stable from 1990 to 1997, oscillating between 40 000 tonnes and 43 000 tonnes with no clear trend (Figure 1). They increased markedly to approximately 50 000 tonnes in 1998 and have remained at this level since then. The value of imports has exhibited even more stability than quantities. Although the 1999-2000 average value was higher than the 1990-91 average (respectively US$86 and 80 million), a closer look at Figure 2 shows that there is no clear growth trend. The value of net imports has varied between US$80 and 92 million for most years over the 1990-2000 decade. The rise in imported quantities in the years 1998 to 2000 did not translate into a higher value of imports (except in 1998) due to the fall in import prices in 1999-2000 (see section 1.3).
Imports of dates into the EU are highly seasonal. They tend to take place at the end of the year, for Christmas and New Year's eve. In 2001, for example, over 80 percent of EU's imports were made between October and December. This period also corresponds to the date harvest in many supplying countries, in particular in North Africa.
However, imports also vary according to the dates of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The main consumers of dates in Europe are found in the large and growing Muslim community that mainly consists of people who emigrated from North Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Traditionally, date fruits are consumed during Ramadan. The Muslim calendar is based on the moon cycle and therefore the dates of Ramadan vary from year to year.
The EU countries do not produce dates, except Spain with very small quantities. Some of them, most notably France, re-export dates (see section 4). Most of the re-export trade takes place between EU member countries. Net exports from the EU to the outside world are extremely low (less than 1 400 tonnes per year in 1999-2000). The quantities re-exported by the EU have steadily declined over the last decade (see Figure 1). They are down 30 percent from over 2 000 tonnes in 1990-91. The fall has been even more marked in terms of value, with a decrease of 50 percent from almost US$6 million in 1990-92 to about US$3 million in 1998-2000 (Figure 2). This fall reflects a decrease in export prices.
The EU is an important market for exporting countries, as it primarily imports dates of high value. In 1998-2000, the average unit value of dates imported ranged between US$1.7 and 2 per kg, while at the global level the unit value was only US$0.6/kg.
However, average date prices in the EU have generally been decreasing since the second half of the 1990s (Figure 3). This fall has several causes. The primary reason is the strong rise in supply worldwide. More dates have been made available on the European market. In face of a relatively stable demand (consumption per capita does not seem to increase substantially) prices have decreased. This phenomenon first hit the prices of common dates only. However, as supply of deglet nour from Tunisia and Algeria increased, prices for this variety have also declined. This trend has been compounded by the increasing competition between deglet nour exporters, as these countries liberalized their date sectors. According to some importers, the increase in the number of exporters combined with the removal of central co-ordination has led to a drop in product quality.
Furthermore, pressure from large-scale retailers in the wake of a series of mergers is accentuating the fall in prices. In an oversupplied market, it is easy for the retail chains to demand lower prices. Today the price of the ravier is at a level that importers consider the lowest possible. However, the outlook is for prices to remain at the current level, at least for common dates and deglet nour.
It should be borne in mind that there are exceptions to the general trend of price decrease. The above observations relate to an average price that does not reflect wide differences across date categories. Prices for speciality dates, in particular mejool, can be very high (see section 6.3). Depending on variety, origin, packaging and quality the difference in import prices may be almost ten fold.
1 The Figures provided are taken from the FAOSTAT database and exclude intra-EU trade unless specified otherwise.