Ecuador became the first country to surpass the 1 million tonne milestone for prawn exports in 2022, according to data released by Ecuador’s National Chamber of Commerce (CNA). Indeed, the Latin American country shipped 1.06 million tonnes of the shellfish during the last calendar year, representing an increase of 219,000 tonnes (+26%) year-on-year (y-o-y). The increase was largely fuelled by a 51% y-o-y rebound in shipments to China, Ecuador’s largest prawn market with 56% of total exports in 2022. Chinese demand for imported seafood plummeted in 2021, due to concerns regarding COVID-19 traces on cargo containers. However, Chinese sentiment improved in 2022, due in part to problems with its domestic prawn production, which encouraged overseas suppliers to serve the East Asian market.
Ecuador has a comparative global advantage in prawn aquaculture, benefitting from three harvests per year, in comparison to rival producers that have one or two harvests. The country has also invested heavily in a modernisation programme, allowing low-cost production, which has contributed to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 27% in Ecuadorean production from 2012-2022. Ecuador’s increasingly large global footprint has eroded the competitiveness of rival producers, particularly smaller farms in southern Asia, as many are unable to compete on price with the scale of Ecuadorean output. Ecuador is anticipated to post double-digit y-o-y growth in prawn production in 2023 with the expectation that this will exert further downward pressure on export prices. Indeed, the ex-factory price of Ecuadorean whiteleg prawns (60-70 count) averaged USD 3.08/kg for the 2022 calendar year, representing a 19.2% y-o-y decline. The price averaged USD 2.60/kg during the first three weeks of 2023, highlighting the bearish market sentiment.