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19/05/2017

Fruits and vegetables: Spain as a destination

  • Morocco, the Netherlands and France, the main suppliers

Vidal Maté. @trigolimpio_VM

Despite stiffer competition in EU markets due to increased imports by non-EU countries, greater area dedicated to crops and high output by other member states, Spain remains one of the primary exporters of fruits and vegetables, almost half of which come from greenhouses in the case of the latter. However, data on market performance of more important products, such as tomatoes, show that sales in the EU have remained practically stable since 2000, whereas the competition has seen growth. Between 2000 and 2016, sales of Spanish tomatoes in the EU expanded by 4%, from 863,000 to 894,000 tons, while sales by the Netherlands rose by 58%, from 589,000 to 931,000 tons and in Morocco they jumped by 163%, from 149,000 to 394,000 tons.

In addition to seeing little growth in sales abroad, just like other countries, due to lack of competitiveness resulting from less efficient structures and, in the case of Morocco, also due to the fact that labor is more expensive, Spain has become a destination for fruit and, in particular, vegetables, with an increase of 17% in terms of value in 2016, to 2.313 billion euros, and by 12% in terms of volume, to 2.8 million tons: 1.6 in fruit and 1.2 in vegetables. The competitiveness of greenhouses is currently one of the sector's main concerns, given that they are older than those used by the competition, which is using cogeneration and heat systems to support plant growth and has performance per square meter that is five-times higher than that obtained in Spain.

In the case of Morocco, Spanish imports of fruits and vegetables increased by a notable 20.4% in 2016, from 242,000 to 291,600 tons. Among vegetable imports, the most noteworthy are beans, with a volume of 87,200 tons in the period, up 11% year-on-year, confirming Moroccan producers' status as leaders in Spain's bean market. Peppers and tomatoes are other big imports, with more than 35,000 tons of each coming in and annual growth in excess of 24%. Twelve thousand tons of zucchini also made its way to Spain, up 31% compared with the previous year.

In the case of fruit, the main product heading north from Morocco is watermelon (over 35,000 tons). Strawberries ranked second (more than 10,000 tons), followed by raspberries (over 9,000 tons) and blueberries (almost 8,000 tons), which shows that the Morocco is clearly committed to popular fruits with a bright future, and Spain is also focused on its diversification policy and the search for new consumers for new products.

At the recent event held in Madrid to analyze the status of greenhouses and horticulture, it was clear to see the competitive capacity of operational facilities in other countries which clearly surpass those in Spain where, together with a small number of greenhouses equipped with modern technology, there's a large area of around 40,000 hectares which may operate and be considered as a type of greenhouse, but which are actually just crops that are somewhat protected by plastic but which lack other services to boost productivity in unfavorable weather. The analysis, organized at the behest of the government, didn't post a problem for the sector's plan of action, although it did highlight the need to innovate and improve structures.

In the EU, it's worth noting exports from France, which amounted to 797,000 tons, reflecting an increase of 6%, to 315 million euros. Refrigerated potatoes took the lead, overlapping with the campaigns for the late and extra-early potatoes, followed by other products, such as apples and vegetables. Though the Dutch potato has been dethroned by the French one, the Netherlands continues to rank second in exports to Spain, with 199,000 tons, worth 142 million euros, with products including potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, pears, oranges and lemons. Portugal comes in third place, with 213,000 tons for 132 million euros. Italy is the fourth-largest exporter to Spain, with 156,000 tons, in particular vegetables and apples worth 134 million euros, and Belgium continues to see its position improve, exporting 117,000 tons.

Outside the EU and excluding Morocco, Spain imports tropical and out-of-season fruit such as grapes, honeydew, watermelon, apples, pineapple, avocado, and vegetables such as asparagus from countries including Peru, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, New Zealand and South Africa.

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