Strong growth in banana consumption in the EU based on ‘alarmingly low prices’


Strong growth in banana consumption, particularly in Eastern Europe, is supporting a strong increase in banana imports. Unfortunately this is based on alarmingly low prices, which are stripping value from the banana supply chain.  ACP banana exporters bear the brunt of this loss of value. Meanwhile EU banana producers are complaining trade agreement banana safeguard provisions are not being activated, despite imports from some $ banana suppliers increasing beyond safeguard trigger levels. EU banana producers are also concerned over the impact of Brexit on the functioning of EU27 banana markets. This dimension and possible future post-Brexit UK banana trade policies are potentially of concern to ACP banana exporters.

2016 saw a 3.4% increase in EU banana imports, which rose from 5.9 million tonnes to 6.1 million. Since 2013 EU banana imports have increased almost 13% (equivalent to an extra 1.3kg per person per annum), with a 21% increase since 2006. In 2017 this growth continued with a 5% increase in the first quarter (see box). While a diverse group of suppliers are all enjoying high rates of growth in exports to the EU, the impact of the implementation of EU trade agreement commitments with non-ACP countries is making itself felt. Overall $ bananas imports grew 2.5% while imports from ACP countries were up 1.6% (1).

Increase in Banana imports in 2017 compared to the average of 2014-16

Exporter Rate of Increase
Nicaragua 695%
Honduras 157%
Guatemala 81%
Ghana 44%
Cote d’Ivoire 16%
Colombia 16%
Peru 11%
Ecuador 6%

This growth in EU imports is based on a strong increase in per capita consumption. Average per capita consumption is 12 kg per annum. There remains considerable scope for further consumption growth, with per capita consumption in Eastern Europe of only 8kg per annum (1).

However this growth in banana consumption is based on ‘alarmingly low prices’ which greatly reduce returns to producers. According to Carolina Dawson of the French research centre Cirad it is essential to ‘overcome this destruction of value’ which is underway in the banana value chain (1).

Despite the loss of value along the banana chain production expansion continues in countries such as Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and the Dominican Republic (1).

Meanwhile the association of banana producers of the Canary Islands (Asprocan) is once again complaining that banana imports are increasing at rates in excessive of those permitted under EU trade agreements. Asprocan claims Nicaragua, Guatemala and now Peru have all exceeded the import thresholds set under EU trade agreements (2). As early as June 2017 Asprocan alerted the EC to the fact that ‘Nicaragua has already exceeded the alert level as far as compliance with the quotas established is concerned, as it is already above 80% of the limit in just 5 months’ (3).

Asprocan maintains this should have triggered action from the EC under the trade agreement’s safeguard mechanism. The absence of EC action is seen as further increasing ‘the threats to the Canary banana sector’ (2). However while Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru exceeded their safeguard trigger threshold levels, other suppliers remained substantially below. As a consequence as of 11 December 2017, the overall volume of imports reached equated to only 72.12% of the safeguard trigger level, below the 80% threshold required for the EC to take action (4).

The European Association of Banana Producers (APEB – of which Asprocan is a leading member), has been analysing the potential impact of Brexit on the EU banana market. One of APEB’s major concerns ‘is the likely diversion of the exports that had so far been made to the United Kingdom from third countries, and which could be redirected to countries of the European Union as a result of the new tariff policies of the UK’. APEB estimates Brexit could see ‘the supply pressure of third countries in the EU ….increase by approximately 425,000 tonnes’.

Comment and Analysis

While APEB is right to be concerned about the possible diversion of $ banana exports to the UK to EU27 markets, this is not likely to be a result of changes of UK tariff policy, but the implications of Brexit for existing EU trade agreement commitments. While the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will shrink EU import demand by around 20%, the banana market access commitments under bilateral EU trade agreements will remain unchanged.

In this context, as existing EU bilaterally negotiated market access commitments for bananas are fully implemented, from April 2019, this will apply exclusively to the territory of the EU27 (although if a two year transitional EU27/UK trade deal were to be agreed which required the UK to continue to abide by EU rules and regulations during this period, this development would probably be deferred until 2021).

EU $ Banana TRQs 2015 and 2019+

Reduced Duty TRQs  
Country 2015 (€110/t) 2019+ (€75/t) % increase
Colombia (Andean Pact FTA) 1,687,500 1,957,500 +16%
Ecuador (Andean Pact FTA) 1,645,111 1,957,500 +19%
Costa Rica (Central American FTAs) 1,281,250 1,486,250 +16%
Panama  (Central American FTAs) 468,750 543,750 +16%
Peru (Andean Pact FTA) 86,250 101,250 +17.4%
Guatemala  (Central American FTAs) 62,500 72,500 +16%
Nicaragua (Central American FTAs) 12,500 14,500 +16%
El Salvador (Central American FTAs) 2,500 2,900 +16%
Mexico (Bilateral FTA) *2,000 2,000 0%
Sub total 5,248,361 6,136,315  

* Duty €70/tonne, but currently subject to renegotiations as part of the updating of the EU-Mexico agreement.

It is the future application of the EU’s existing banana TRQ commitments solely to the EU27 market which will intensify competition on EU27 markets as a result of Brexit.

In the short term this could carry serious implications for those ACP suppliers who primarily serve EU27 markets, most notable Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon, but also Suriname.  However in the longer term further growth in banana consumption in Eastern Europe could serve to ease these Brexit related pressures.

While in terms of WTO quotas the EU and the UK have reached agreement on the framework for the apportionment of these market access obligations between the EU27 and the UK, this framework has been rejected by leading WTO members. This rejection is based on concerns that it would restrict their access to the EU market, in a context of profound uncertainty over future UK trade policy (see companion article ‘Concerns over Division of EU28 WTO TRQ Commitments Emerge’, 26 October 2017).

Given this opposition in regard to WTO market access commitments, opposition is likely to be even more intense to the apportionment of bilaterally negotiated TRQ market access commitments between the UK and the EU27.

This issue of the future of TRQ restricted access to the EU market is likely to be further complicated by the fact that under bilateral EU trade agreements TRQ market access concessions were often exchanged.

Post Brexit no UK exporters will be eligible to gain market access under TRQs granted EU exporters, since the UK will no longer be a party of EU trade agreements. What is more, post-Brexit, EU27 exporters are unlikely to be willing to voluntarily share hard won market access rights with competing UK exporters.

UK market access to third countries where the EU has a trade agreement in place, will need to be subject to separate bilateral trade deals, as will the market access granted to third country suppliers to the UK market.

The scope and nature of these new bilateral trade deals is potentially a major issue of concern to ACP banana exporters with a high dependence on the UK market.  Unlike in the EU, the UK has no domestic banana producers to protect and is keen to quickly conclude trade agreements with large non-EU economies, based on the exchange of major market access concessions. This could lead to an early downward revision of UK banana sector tariffs.

However while the UK government has committed to replicating EU market access arrangement as bilateral deals and favours a ‘cut and paste’ approach, it may take some time to set in place these bilateral trade arrangements with the UK.  This is a consequence of the human resource constraints in the UK’s Department of International Trade (DIT), the complexities around TRQ arrangements, rules of origin issues for UK exports and the large number of EU-third country trade  agreements which will need to be replicated.

In this context the UK may unilaterally offer concessions on banana tariffs under and GSP or GSP+ schemes, given the high food price inflation which could result from the Brexit process and the role bananas play as the most frequently consumed fruit in the UK.

Banana exports to the EU and UK 2016 Volume and Value (tonnes & Euro)

Tonnes € ‘000
EU UK UK % share EU UK UK % share
Sub-Saharan Africa
– Ivory Coast 308,261 43,246 14.0% 229,136 31,813 13.9%
– Cameroon 297,115 44,926 15.1% 235,339 33,165 14.1%
– Ghana 58,006 31,496 54.3% 49,080 26,438 53.9%
St Lucia 7,397 7,397 100% 4,953 4,953 100%
Belize 71,741 43,869 61.1% 46,704 32,219 69.0%
Dominica Rep 375,453 218,905 58.3% 287,153 157,575 54.9%
Suriname 49,738 0 0% 42,886 0 0%

Source: EC, Market Access Data Base

Any move towards UK banana tariffs which are lower than existing EU tariffs would carry serious implications for those ACP banana exporters who primarily serve the UK market (Ghana, Belize Dominican Republic, St Lucia).

Given the maturity of the banana market in the UK (which contrasts sharply with the situation in eastern Europe), it is unlikely per capita consumption growth in the UK will provide any significant degree of relief from the competitive pressures traditional ACP exporters may come to face.

Beyond the Brexit issue the ‘alarmingly low prices’ of bananas would suggest an urgent need to extend the scope of the UK Groceries Code to importers of bananas and extend the coverage of the new proposed EU regulations on unfair trading practices to include ACP-EU agro-food sector supply chains, with a particular focus on bananas. Initiatives in this area have been a long standing demand of ACP banana sector campaigners.

To date however there is no indication that the UK or the EU authorities are contemplating such a course of action, despite the current review of regulatory initiatives aimed at strengthening the functioning of agro-food sector supply chains and eliminating unfair trading practices (see companion articles ‘Proposed EC Regulatory Initiative on UTPs Needs to be Extended to ACP-EU Supply Chains’, 8 September 2017 and ‘Role of UK Groceries Code Adjudicator could be extended’, 17 July 2017).

(1), ‘Record banana imports for EU’, 2 October 2017
(2) EFE, ‘Banana imports greater than allowed’, 15 November 2017
(3), ‘Banana imports from ACP countries still on the rise’, 19 June 2017
(4) EC, Banana Import Monitoring Report, December 2017 – setting out the utilisation rate of bilateral agreed banana TRQs with reference to the agreed stabilisation mechanism