Global canned tuna trade unstable with stagnant US demand and declining Middle Eastern imports, while EU28 imports up moderately


The report analyses the market situation until September 2017 

Tuna canners in Southeast Asia faced difficult markets worldwide due to increased raw material prices till October 2017. However, since the opening of fish aggregating devices (FAD) fishing in the Western Pacific in November 2017, the delivery prices of frozen skipjack to Thailand dropped sharply.


Prices of frozen tuna raw material were higher in 2017 compared with the previous three years. The price for skipjack increased by 20–25 percent during the Western and Central Pacific FAD fishing closure between July and October 2017, reaching USD 2 400 per tonne for delivery to Thailand. In November there was an abrupt drop (-20 percent) in frozen skipjack price in the Bangkok market. This market sets the trend for the global tuna canning industry.

In the first nine months of 2017, Thailand imported 510 800 tonnes of frozen tuna as raw material for canning, 5.5 percent less than in the same period in 2016. During this period, imports of frozen skipjack declined by 11 percent compared to the same period in 2016, while the average import price increased by 7 percent. Supplies of skipjack from Western and Central Pacific to Thailand dropped in comparison with 2016, but supplies from the Maldives, Seychelles, Senegal and India increased significantly. Thai imports of frozen yellowfin tuna during this period were 5 percent higher at 85 710 tonnes.

As of early December, fishing in the Western and Central Pacific has been moderate-to-good in most areas (except around Kiribati due to bad weather conditions).

The second phase of the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) 72 days ‘veda’ fishing ban in the Central Eastern Pacific was active between 9 November 2017 and 19 January 2018. Supplies are estimated to be lower during this period as 65 percent of the Ecuadorian tuna fleet is expected to stay in the ports. Nevertheless, prices of raw skipjack fell by 17 percent in early November 2017 to USD 2 000 per tonne, due to the already mentioned price decline in the Bangkok market.

Fishing efforts in the Indian Ocean have been reduced with the closure of the yellowfin fishery to the Spanish fleet. However, raw material inventories at local canneries remain healthy. Trans-shipments to Thailand and Ecuador have also dropped and prices of skipjack and yellowfin weakened in line with the overall market situation.

As of early December 2017, catches in the Atlantic Ocean were low, but raw material inventories at local canneries remained at a moderate level. Following the global trends, both skipjack and yellowfin prices decreased. The annual 2-months FAD closure in the Atlantic Ocean came into effect on 1 January 2018.

European prices for both skipjack and yellowfin tuna fell, but the price for cooked double cleaned yellowfin loins remained stable. Trading was slow due to the December holidays and the impending arrival of duty-free quota loins in the EU28 market.

Fresh And Frozen Tuna Market (Non-Canned)

United States of America

During the first three quarters of 2017, US imports of non-canned tuna were nearly 68 000 tonnes, 3 percent higher than in the same period in 2016, confirming a positive consumer demand. In this category, 17 900 tonnes were whole/dressed fresh tuna; 27 360 tonnes were headed and gutted frozen tuna, and 22 620 tonnes were frozen loins and fillets. The marginal decline in fresh tuna imports was a result of lower catches of bigeye in the Pacific; imports of fresh yellowfin were stable. Supplies of the higher value air-flown bluefin tuna increased during this period. The United States of America remains the largest import market for air-flown fresh tuna.

Supported by good market demand, frozen loin/steak imports were 22 600 tonnes (+4.6 percent), supplied mainly by Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines, Thailand and China.


In the world’s largest sashimi tuna market, Japan continued to import less whole tuna (fresh and frozen) and more frozen loin/fillet, as consumer demand became more and more seasonal, associated with festivals and special occasions.

Imports of fresh tuna declined by 23 percent during the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, and by almost half of the quantity imported during the same period in 2013. Imports of frozen sashimi grade tuna (bigeye, yellowfin, bluefin) also dropped during this period. In contrast, imports of deep frozen tuna loins rose to 36 200 tonnes, 16 percent more than during the same period in 2016. Japan imported 20 300 tonnes of redmeat quality tuna, 56 percent of the total frozen loin imports, supplied by China, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Fiji. Imports of high value bluefin loins totalled 12 200 tonnes, which were supplied primarily by Malta, Turkey, Croatia and Spain.

Canned Tuna Market


Mixed export trends continued in the canned and processed tuna global market during the first nine months of 2017. Thailand continued to be the top supplier in the world market, though exports declined by 11.7 percent. Exports increased from Ecuador (+27.2 percent), Spain (+10 percent) and the Philippines, supported by ‘zero’ tariff status in the large EU28 market. China had an export loss of 4.5 percent compared with the same period in 2016.


Thai exports to the largest market, the United States of America, declined marginally (0.59 percent) during the review period. Exports to the emerging but large Middle Eastern markets significantly decreased, namely Egypt (-66 percent), Libya (-15 percent) and Saudi Arabia (-19 percent). Thai exports to the EU28 also declined by 19 percent. However, there were increased exports to Australia, Japan, Canada and Peru.

Even though the exported volume of canned and processed tuna from Thailand weakened during the first nine months of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016, the exported value increased by 2 percent to USD 1.49 billion. This can be attributed to the 15 percent rise in export prices because of the high raw material cost.


In the first nine months of 2017, Ecuador exported 167 900 tonnes of cooked loins and canned/pouched tuna (+27 percent), valued at USD 769.4 million (+46 percent). Supplies to its main EU28 market were up by 29 percent during this period, as a result of the ‘zero tariff and no quota’ status in the EU28. There were also increases in exports to the United States of America (+13.6 percent at 15 000 tonnes), Argentina (+20 percent at 9 700 tonnes) and Chile (+44 percent at 6 600 tonnes).


Spanish tuna canners have been successful in focusing on their main target market, the EU28. They produce high value products for direct consumption. Tuna exports from Spain increased by 10 percent in volume and 23 percent in value during January-September 2017 in comparison with the same period in 2016. The top markets were Italy, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany.


An estimated 60 000 tonnes of canned tuna and cooked loins were exported from the Philippines during the first nine months of 2017. Nearly 65 percent of these products (HS 160414) entered the EU28 markets (+39 percent at 39 000 tonnes). However, other significant Filipino markets did not fare as well. Exports to Japan and the United States of America fell by 13 percent and 39 percent, respectively, during this period.


During the first nine months of 2017, imports of canned tuna were higher in the EU28 and stable in North America, despite the price rise for raw tuna and processed tuna compared with the previous three years. There were also greater imports in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. However, there have been significant import decreases in the emerging markets of the Middle East, and a stagnant demand in Southeast Asia.

European Union (Member Organization)

The EU28 is the largest global market for canned and processed tuna. The positive import trend observed during the first half of 2017, continued until September 2017. Imports increased by 10 percent, to 555 940 tonnes, in comparison with the same period in 2016.

Supplies from extra-EU28 sources increased by 8.4 percent to 401 800 tonnes during this period. The top five suppliers were Ecuador, Mauritius, the Philippines, Seychelles and Papua New Guinea, all benefiting from the duty-free status in the EU28.

The top five importers in the EU28 in order of ranking were Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Imports increased in all these markets except in the United Kingdom. Spain imports increased by 29 percent to 99 400 tonnes, including 71 200 tonnes of cooked frozen loins for reprocessing. Among the other European markets, imports increased only in Switzerland by 5.4 percent, but declined in Russia (-23 percent, 3 015 tonnes) and in Norway (-39 percent, 1 600 tonnes), which could be due to the 15-20 percent rise in import prices.

North and South America

During the first three quarters of 2017, total US imports of processed and canned tuna were stable at 381 438 tonnes (+1.6 percent), while the import value was 10.4 percent higher than in 2016. Imports of canned and pouched tuna for direct consumption increased by 3.67 percent, due to the substantial increase in the white meat albacore imports (+20 percent), both in cans and in pouch. Imports of cooked frozen loins for reprocessing declined from 44 900 tonnes in 2016 to 40 155 tonnes during the same period in 2017.

Canadian imports of canned tuna dropped to 24 800 tonnes (-3.4 percent) because of the high prices of raw material. Supplies from Thailand remained stable, holding 89 percent of the market, but declined from the Philippines (-39 percent) and Viet Nam (-32 percent).

In South America, the bilateral trade agreement between Peru and Thailand sustained increased imports from Thailand of canned tuna to this country (+11 percent). However, there were significant decreases in imports in Colombia (-15 percent) and in Brazil (-20 percent) where supplies mostly came from Ecuador.


The top three regional markets of Japan, Australia and New Zealand maintained the positive import trends during the review period, largely supplied by Southeast Asian tuna packers. Conversely, demand in other East Asian developing countries faltered because of the rising prices. Similarly, exports from Southeast Asia to most of the Middle East markets, both large and small, were lower due to the high price factor.

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