Morocco’s fresh tomato exports to the EU have steadily increased, leading the EU fresh tomato industry to repeatedly lobby for stricter import rules. Blocking Moroccan imports will only benefit leading export nations like Spain and the Netherlands to a limited extent. Investing in consistent quality, flavor, and service, and lowering labor costs will be more fruitful strategies, writes Cindy van Rijswick, Senior Analyst fruit, vegetables, and floriculture at Rabobank Research.
European trade organizations have recently asked the European Commission to review its import regulations for tomatoes from Morocco, as growing imports of low-priced Moroccan tomatoes are a concern for leading export nations like Spain and the Netherlands. However, more stringent import rules will only benefit these exporters to a certain extent, as Morocco is only a small player in the large EU market. Furthermore, the recent increase in competitive pressure from Morocco is most noticeable outside the EU, especially in the UK.
Moroccan tomatoes are steaming up in the EU
Moroccan tomatoes hold an estimated 6% share of the EU-27+UK’s 7bn kg tomato market. To put this in perspective, the shares of Spanish, Dutch, and Italian tomatoes are 23%, 13%, and 11%, respectively. But over the last decades, EU tomato imports from Morocco have increased steadily. Since 2011, growth has averaged over 3% per year, reaching roughly 620m kg in 2020. At the same time, Spain’s tomato exports have decreased by roughly 3% per year, reaching 729m kg, while Dutch tomato exports have stayed around the 2011 level of just over 1bn kg. The rising popularity of Moroccan tomatoes is mainly the result of low production costs: €1.12/hour in Morocco vs. €8.37/hour in Spain. Morocco is a particularly competitive supplier of tomatoes that require more labor, like the smaller cherry and snack varieties. Moroccan suppliers, which are usually large, integrated players, are able to offer the increasingly popular small tomato varieties at affordable prices and reasonable quality.
Intense competition mainly in France and the UK
Zooming in on the EU’s main tomato import markets, we see different competitors fighting for share in the various tomato markets, with intense competition from Moroccan tomatoes occurring mainly in France and the UK.
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