RPT-Tropical fruit trade set to reach new peak in 2017 - UN FAO

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ROME, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Global trade in avocados, mangos, pineapple and papaya is set to reach a new peak in 2017 though climate change threatens the output of tropical fruit in many growing regions, the United Nations food agency (FAO) said on Thursday.

Exports of the four main tropical fruits have been growing faster than all other internationally traded food commodities, as consumers in the United States, Europe and now parts of Asia have developed a taste for crops that are still mainly grown for subsistence in developing countries.

Rising incomes and perceived health benefits are fuelling demand for “super fruits”, which are now among the priciest food commodities, FAO said in a biannual report on global food markets.

In 2017, producers including Mexico, Costa Rica and India are set to ship some 7 million tonnes, 5.2 percent more than last year, with a global export value of around $10 billion.

“Trade prospects overall would have been higher, had it not been for adverse weather conditions in the leading exporting countries,” FAO analyst Sabine Altendorf said in the report.

Over the past two years, drought has disrupted harvests of mangoes in Asia, South America and Africa, papaya in some regions of South America, and avocados in southern Africa.

Hurricanes have battered the Dominican Republic, up until now the world’s second-largest avocado producer, prompting FAO to predict a 35 percent drop in this year’s harvest from 2016.

The Mexican avocado trade, already facing uncertainty in light of treaty re-negotiation with the United States, was hit further by bad weather. Output growth in the world’s largest producer is projected to fall to 1 percent this year, versus 5.5 percent average annual growth between 2007 and 2016.

“The threat of climate change and associated extreme weather events looms heavily over the sector, given that tropical zones have acute vulnerability to the phenomenon,” Altendorf said.

Most of the world’s tropical fruit is grown on farms measuring less than five hectares. Only 5 percent of what is grown is exported, with most of it representing a vital source of nutrition and income generated locally.

But FAO said shifts in consumption as people get richer are likely to boost the traded share, underpinned by freer trade, better market access and technological advances which could lead to lower prices and wider distribution.

Affluent consumers in China are particularly keen on the novelty and exclusiveness associated with tropical fruits. This has led demand for pineapples to outstrip domestic production, and shipments of avocados to grow an estimated 124 percent annually since 2013, with some 44,000 tonnes arriving this year.

Lured by high market prices, Chinese growers have also started to grow more avocados for consumption at home, FAO said. The first harvest on the new plantations is due in autumn 2017. (Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)