Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


112.     International trade in seaweed and seaweed products is concerned mainly with phycocolloids and the raw materials for their extraction. It is very difficult to estimate the exact value of world trade in these commodities but, following the extraordinarily rapid increases in prices during 1973–1974, especially for agar, a value of around U.S.$ 140 million might now be tentatively placed on total trade in seaweed and seaweed products2 compared with approximately U.S.$ 50 million in 1970.

2 Including edible products, seaweed meal and fertilizers

Dried Seaweed

113.     In the early 1970s some 37 000 metric tons of dried seaweed annually entered international trade; increased output by a number of countries, notably Canada and The Philippines, probably boosted this figure to over 40 000 tons in 1974, valued roughly at U.S.$ 20 to 25 million. Japan and the U.S.A. are the dominant importers and, together with France and Denmark, account for over 90 percent of total world imports of this commodity.

114.     Using data published in national trade yearbooks, an attempt is made in Table X to indicate the broad flows of trade in dried seaweed over the years 1971 to 1973. Of the major importers, the U.S.A. obtains its supplies chiefly from Mexico (principally Macrocystis pyrifera for use in alginate extraction) and Canada (mainly Chondrus crispus for carageenan production) whilst Japan derives its supplies from a rather wider range of countries, the Republic of Korea,3 Chile, South Africa and Argentina being the most important. The greater part of Denmark's imports of dried weed is represented by red algae from Canada to supplement domestically harvested raw materials used in phycocolloid processing. The French phycocolloid industry similarly imports fairly substantial amounts of dried weed from worldwide sources. Purchases of dried weed by Hong Kong and Singapore, on the other hand, reflect these ports' traditional commodity trading activities.

3 In addition to dried seaweed, Japan imports considerable quantities of “nori” from Korea, the value for which has ranged between U.S.$ 4 million and 22 million per annum in recent years

Table X

Indicative Matrix of Trade Flows: Dried Seaweedsa

 '000 metric tons p.a. (average 1971–73)
JapanU.S.A.FranceDenmarkU.K.Hong KongSingaporeOtherbTotal
Argentina  1.73-0.06-----   1.79
Chile  3.47  0.850.280.05---0.08   4.72
Brazil  0.50  0.01------   0.51
Mexico  0.11  2.810.01-----   2.93
Canada  0.02  4.550.113.250.05--0.00   7.98
Spain-  0.010.20----   0.21
Portugal-   0.51
Morocco  0.03-0.03-----   0.06
Tanzania---0.050.02---   0.07
Madagascar  0.16-------   0.16
South Africa  2.14-0.14----   2.55
Norway  0.82  1.12-----   1.94
Iceland  0.01-----   0.01
Indonesia  0.13  0.430.900.44-0.850.930.00   3.68
Philippines  0.56   1.01
Korea, Rep. of  4.77   5.49
China  0.33------   0.33
Otherb  0.90  0.230.820.18--(0.87)  (3.00)

a Excluding semi-prepared products (e.g., “nori”, from Korea to Japan)

b “Other” includes unidentified

( ) estimates

115.     Prices for dried seaweeds on the international markets vary very considerably according to the species, quality, harvesting costs, end-use demands and the prices of substitutes. However, in general, all these factors have combined in the 1970s to produce a substantial and, recently, a very rapid rise in prices. For example, over the period 1970–1974 Japanese imports of dried weed (excluding “nori”)rose by 40 percent in quantity but 340 percent in value, the average import price in 1974 being nearly U.S.$ 600 per ton compared with U.S.$ 260 per ton in 1970. Canadian exports (mainly of Chondrus) to the U.S.A. rose in average unit value from U.S.$ 290 to U.S.$ 630 per ton over the same period. Prices for Eucheuma of Pacific origin rose from U.S.$ 600 per ton c.i.f. at mid 1971 to U.S.$ 900 per ton by mid 1974; prices asked for Gelidium in the summer of 1974 were reported to be double those of twelve months previously.


116.     International trade in phycocolloids is, in many respects, much more difficult to assess. Commodity classifications used in national trade statistics still vary widely, despite continued attempts at international standardization.1 In the case of phycocolloids, agar, carrageenan and the like are often lumped together in broader groupings, for example, of “vegetable gums, mucilages and thickeners”; in other instances, all seaweed gums are classified as “agar”. Within these constraints, Tables XI and XII attempt to indicate the major international trade flows of agar, carrageenan and other phycocolloids derived from red algae as one group and, separately, of alginates.

1 Another, familiar problem encountered with trade matrix analyses is that, in a given year, recorded exports by country A to country B do not always coincide with country B's record of its imports from country A

117.     The manifold demands by economically developed societies for industrial gums of all kinds have resulted in an extensive international trade in phycocolloids. Whilst the U.S.A., with its substantial domestic production, is the world's single greatest user of seaweed gums, western Europe is the most important trading area, much of the trade being within the region. The Federal Republic of Germany, lacking a significant phycocolloid industry of its own, is the world's major importer of seaweed gums, especially alginates.

118.     Trade in alginates is, indeed, predominantly a west European activity. France, Norway and the U.K. are the world's principal exporters, mainly to other countries in western Europe but also to a large number of other markets. Illustrative of the increasingly specialized nature of the varied algin products is the intra-trade between, for example, France and the U.K. and France and the U.S.A. Over the period 1971–1973 annual world trade in alginates averaged some 7 000 tons per annum, with a value in 1974 prices of approximately U.S.$ 20 million.

119.     In the case of phycocolloids derived from red algae, the trade pattern is rather more complex. Denmark, the single greatest exporter (mainly of furcellaran and carrageenan), supplies over 30 countries, chiefly in western Europe but also in the Near and Far East, North and South America and Oceania. Japan, the chief importer, draws its supplies mainly from the Republic of Korea and Portugal;2 Japan is also a major exporter, notably to countries in the western Pacific area. Carrageenan accounts for the greater part of France's exports of phycocolloids, mainly to other west European countries. Spain, Portugal and Morocco represent a geographically associated group of exporters of considerable influence on the world markets, trade in Spanish agar being particularly strongly promoted by a producers' association. During the period 1971 to 1973 an annual average of about 6 400 tons of “red” phycocolloids were internationally traded, carrageenan and furcellaran each accounting for some 1 200 tons, the balance being agar; at a rough estimate this trade had a 1974 value of approximately U.S.$ 65 million.

2 As in marine fisheries, Japanese enterprises have established joint venture operations for phycocolloid manufacture in a number of countries. In Portugal, for example, Japanese and local interests already associated in the manufacture of fishing gear and textiles, have established a large agar plant near Lisbon, its products being almost entirely exported

Table XI

Indicative Matrix of Trade Flows: Alginates

 metric tons p.a. (average 1971–73)
JapanU.S.A.Germany Fed. Rep. ofItalyFranceU.K.Other West EuropeOtheraTotal
Japan--    37-1--155   193
Korea, Rep. of105------   105
France-   36  804194-110    262351 1 757
Norway  22  623102200-  (200)(200) (1 347)
U.K.336  423155  62-  (100)(150) (1 226)
Canada   2-  50  52-    (50)(100)  (254)
U.S.A.  18-    14  77112-  (250)(350)  (820)
Othera   6(414)  122  22127  74  (200)(231) (1 196)
Total489(450)2 2036005541841 0621 5376 900

a “Other” includes unidentified
( ) estimates

Table XII

Indicative Matrix of Trade Flows: Phycocolloidsa Derived from Red Algae

 metric tons per annum (average 1971–1973)
JapanThailandAustraliaU.S.S.R.U.S.A.U.K.Germany Fed. Rep. ofFranceItalyOtherbTotal
Japan-  76  36  99  26  21  65  13  12  229  577
Rep. of  479  31--   2----  162  674
China    21--------    21
France    29-  29-  20209156-  16  499  958
Denmark  (200)-   (65)-(100)192239111  70  (300)1 277
Spain    46-  (20)  19  84  84112119  11  (350)  (845)
Portugal  305-30-  47254  35  10  66    54  801
Morocco    31---178  27  45  19    5    49  354
South Africa    18--------    18
Chile      8--  19  59-  12--    18  116
Argentina    828-  36  15-    1--    36  178
U.S.A.     1-(120)  (27)(120)15    9  20  13  (100)  (432)
Total(1 228)115(300)(200)(650)802680361194(1 870)(6 400)

a Agar, Carrageenan, Furcellaran

b “Other” includes unidentified

( ) estimates

120.     Notwithstanding a virtual doubling in price over 1970–1974, alginates still remain by far the cheapest of the phycocolloids. The average unit value of alginates imported by, for example, the Federal Republic of Germany was about U.S.$ 1.30 per kg in 1970 and remained fairly steady until 1974 when values rose markedly to reach an annual average of some U.S.$ 2.50 per kg.

121.     The agar market, on the other hand, after three years of, if anything, declining prices, experienced a most dramatic rise in values in 1973 and 1974 (see Table V). Average import values in Japan, the single greatest importers of agar, fluctuated between U.S.$ 2.75 and U.S.$ 3.25 per kg during 1970–1972, jumped to U.S.$ 5.75 in 1973 and in the course of 1974 nearly doubled to reach an average annual value exceeding U.S.$ 10 per kg. Similar increases in the average import prices of agar were experienced in, for example, France (from U.S.$ 3.40 per kg in 1970 to U.S.$ 11.95 in 1974) and the Federal Republic of Germany (from U.S.$ 3.50 per kg in 1970 to U.S.$ 12.70 per kg in 1974).

122.     Prices for carrageenan and furcellaran, whilst steadily increasing, have risen much less spectacularly. Denmark's average export price for furcellaran in 1974 was U.S.$ 5.40 per kg, compared with a little over U.S.$ 3 in 1970; carrageenan prices, exemplified by average French export values, rose from U.S.$ 3.80 in 1970 to U.S.$ 5.85 in 1974.

123.     Of the total international trade in seaweeds and seaweed products, Japan and the U.S.A. emerge as the predominant importers, the Republic of Korea as the major exporter (principally to Japan). The main importers and exporters, in 1974 value terms, are set out in Table XIII.

Table XIII

Main Importers and Exporters of Seaweeds and Seaweed Products 1974

 U.S.$ millions
 Agar Carrageenan etc.AlginatesDried SeaweedsEdible ProductsTotal 
 U.S.A.7.45(1.00)(8.00) (1.00)(17.50)
 Fed. Rep. of2.435.44--  7.87
 France3.101.281.83-  6.21
 Korea, Rep. of6.21(0.25)(6.00)(10.50)(23.00)
 Japan8.240.49- (0.60)  (9.30)
 Spain(9.00)(0.20)-  (9.20)
 Portugal(8.00)(0.30)-  (8.30)
 Denmark8.22--  8.22
 Canada(0.7)6.01-  6.71
 Chile1.275.33-  6.60

( ) estimates

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page