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International Waters: Singapore Still the Leading Exporter

Posted: April 26, 2012, 11:00 a.m., EDT

By John Dawes

It takes more than two years for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to publish its ornamental fish import and export statistics. We’ve therefore only recently received the data for 2009.

As always, the stats make for interesting reading. Singapore, as usual, tops the exporters’ list with a sizable lead over its nearest competitor. At $59,940,000, its exports account for 18.4 percent of the world total exports of $326,667,000. 

Nonetheless, the 2009 Singaporean figure is down in comparison to 2008, which stood at $68,706,000. Does this mean Singapore is gradually losing its grip on the No. 1 position in the ornamental aquatic export trade? No, not at all.

Singapore Exports
Despite a drop in annual exports, Singapore fish still hold a healthy lead in terms of numbers exported over those species from all other countries. John Dawes
The fact is, of all the leading exporting countries, only Japan shows a healthy increase, rising from $22,352,000 in 2008, to $30,075,000 in 2009. Such a situation obviously warrants closer examination.

In recent years, among generalist aquarists there appears to be a trend away from higher-priced specimen fish toward the more inexpensive, colorful, hardy “bread-and-butter” types. Specialist aquarists and pondkeepers, on the other hand, are continuing to buy their higher-priced specimen fish, such as koi.

This is where the explanation for the high Japanese export figures may lie. Since Japan is, perhaps, the best-known producer and supplier—with its pedigree koi continuing to demand premium prices—it continues to cater to the lucrative market of specialist koi fanciers who are prepared to pay higher prices for their fish than their generalist counterparts.

Most of the other leading exporting countries, such as Malaysia, Israel, Czech Republic, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States, have all shown drops of varying magnitude. Only the Netherlands (a major hub for Europe-bound consignments) and Indonesia have experienced an increase in export revenue. The Indonesian figures are interesting in that they show a significant increase in freshwater exports (from $2,852,000 to $5,644,000) with a smaller, but still sizable, drop in marine exports (from $5,430,000 to $4,375,000).

And then, there’s Spain. In 2002, Spanish exports were worth just $3,579,000. Yet, seven years later, they are quoted as $46,836,000, placing Spain second in the world.

The first notable increase occurred between 2002 and 2003. Particularly surprising was the colossal jump recorded in saltwater fish exports from $969,000 in 2002, to an incredible $9,646,000 in 2003, representing an almost tenfold increase in exports of marines in just one year.

Equally surprising is the fact that Spain is not a country traditionally associated with marines. There is therefore a wide-held belief in the industry that something went wrong somewhere along the line with the recording or submission of the export trade data and that, somehow, this underpins what may turn out to be anomalous figures. At the time of writing, I am awaiting clarification from the FAO on this matter and will inform you accordingly when and if I receive that clarification. <HOME>

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