FOREIGN TRADE in fruit and vegetables to and from Italy in 2017 grew both in terms of volume and value. The figures for the first ten months of the year, drawn up by the Fruitimprese sector association based on ISTAT data, show an increase of 1.25% in volume (from 6.24 to 6.32 million tonnes) and of 3.94% in value (from €6.85 to €7.11 billion). Imports are doing better than exports. Export volumes fell by two-thirds from 3.5 million tonnes from January to October 2016, to 3.3 million tonnes in the same period in 2017 (-5.6%). But exports are increasing in terms of value. Despite the fact that exports of goods have decreased, companies have in fact billed 3.3% more in the first ten months of 2017 than in 2016, going from €3.81 to 3.94 billion. Imports increased both in terms of volumes (+9.7%, from 2.7 to 3.0 million tonnes) and in terms of value (from €3.02 to 3.17 billion) during the same months.
Italian ports account for a large part of the import-export traffic in perishable products, and fruit and vegetables play a decisive role in this sector. The official traffic data collected by Assoporti and Espo does not differentiate these types of goods, but Federazione del Mare published a report on the subject in 2015. To paint a more general picture of the situation for food products (the agri-food sector), including dry and liquid bulk, Ravenna was the leader among Italian ports (estimated at about 3.5 million tonnes), followed by Livorno (2.8 million tonnes), Venice (2.5 million tonnes) and Gioia Tauro (2.4 million tonnes).
More specifically, with regard to fruit and vegetables, the market has changed dramatically: the number of specialised fleets and terminals has drastically decreased, and a great number of products have shifted to reefer containers (according to the Federazione del Mare, the share of perishable goods travelling in containers is over 76%). Today, the most important ports for fruit and vegetable traffic are mainly within the Tyrrhenian Sea, and have the advantage in terms of trade with West Africa and Central and South America. The ports that are best equipped with cold warehouses are Vado Ligure and Livorno, as well as Civitavecchia and Salerno. However, trailer transport is flourishing in the Adriatic Sea, with refrigerated RO-ROs embarking and disembarking in Trieste and Venice, headed not only for Italy, but also for Central and Eastern European markets. Traffic in the Adriatic is mainly generated by Eastern Mediterranean producer countries like Egypt and Turkey.
But export traffic is also growing, and space is now opening up for Italian products. CISCO, Genoa’s centre for the study of container traffic, explained, “Over the last five years, Italian traffic has seen a boom in tropical fruit imports, while exports of kiwis have surged.” As Federazione del Mare explains, the volumes of food transported by sea now amount to about 100 million tonnes of perishable foodstuffs and about 400 million tonnes of grain worldwide. The former are transported via the cold chain, both in refrigerated containers and in bulk in refrigerated vessels; grains are transported in bulk carriers. The growth of the world population,” Federazione del Mare continues, “has increased the demand for food, and consequently the volume and value of transport, reshaping trade corridors. In particular, the greater purchasing power of an increasingly global middle-class has contributed to the development of routes to the global South and East. By 2050, China and Africa will be responsible for 32% and 19% of global food imports respectively, in order to feed growing populations and develop their demand towards greater diversity and globalization. These projections amount to 8000 billion ton-km and 500 million tonnes for China, and 4700 billion ton-km and 320 million tonnes for Africa.”