The argument regarding whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable remains widely unresolved. What is inarguable is that tomatoes are the most popular and highly consumed horticultural food across Europe. Consumption is especially prominent in Poland, Italy, and Spain, with numbers spiking during the summer season. Of the many tomato markets available, Morocco has been stepping into the limelight as a global producer. Europe, in particular, has been enjoying an increase in imports for Moroccan tomatoes over the last five years. Morocco’s annual export value has also risen consistently, from USD 525 million in 2015 to USD 765.2 million in 2019, representing a 46% increase.
Source: ITC Trade Map
While Morocco places fourth amongst top exporters, it is becoming an increasingly sought out market for its price-competitive tomatoes. Morocco has a very similar production and marketing schedule to Spain, who ranks third in worldwide exports of tomatoes. While the latter is currently ahead in terms of annual export value, Morocco is bent on catching up to its main competitor. Especially in relation to the EU market, Morocco has increased its sales by roughly 18% over the last four campaigns, while the city of Almeria - Spain’s largest tomato-producing region (38% of total production) - has seen a reduction of 25%.
According to data provided by the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade, Moroccan fresh tomato exports to the EU between September of 2019 and August of 2020 exceeded exports from Almeria within the same period. While Spain still has a higher annual export value (USD 1.03 billion in 2019) than Morocco (USD 765 million), current trends show that such may not be the case for much longer.
Source: ITC Trade Map
During this period, Morocco exported approximately 424K tons compared to Spain’s 371K tons. Consequently, Moroccan fresh tomato sales to the EU overtook the value of Spanish exports to the EU by 14 percentage points. In fact, over the past five years, Spain itself has become a top destination for Moroccan fruit and vegetable exports. During that period, the country imported more than 367K tonnes of vegetables from Morocco, with tomatoes being one of the main import products.
Source: Customs Department of the Spanish Tax Agency
Tomato producers in Belgium have spoken up about the decline in production and exports in the last few months due to increased competition from other markets. According to one producer, tomato trade in the country has been quieter than usual as Turkey, Morocco, and Macedonia has been taking an increasing share of the export market. One explanation for this phenomenon is that these tomatoes are being offered at much lower prices. Thus there has been concern that the competitive prices Morocco is offering compromises the quality of the tomatoes.
It’s unclear whether Morocco’s increase in tomato production and export will eventually overtake that of Spain’s, but it certainly is a possibility. The acreage devoted to tomatoes in Spain is in continual decline as the country is switching production priority to peppers and zucchini. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Spain were to, in retrospect, rely on Morocco’s tomato for imports as they shift their focus to growing other horticultural products. On the other hand, some suppliers in Spain have suggested that despite this growing competition, Morocco simply does not have the varietal leverage to outcompete Spain. Morocco is known primarily for its cultivation of the round or ball tomato, but significantly lags behind in production of other highly sought out varieties like the Vine, Monterrosa, or other specialty tomatoes.
Freshplaza. “Belgian tomato trade is quiet due to Turkish, Moroccan, and Macedonian competition”
Freshplaza. “The European Union buyers more tomatoes from Morocco than Almeria”
GardenBeast. “European Tomato Market Surges with Help from Morocco”
Hortidaily. “Morocco: Tomato exports to EU increased by 10%”