Philippine tuna has barely penetrated the Middle East market. Pic: Edwin Espejo

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – A US$2 billion food market in the Middle East is waiting for Philippine producers of fresh and processed tuna, according to Gil Herico, the country’s agriculture attaché to the United Arab Emirates.

Herico said UAE alone imports US$100 million worth of fish and other marine products.

According to him, Philippine tuna products have barely scratched of the lucrative fish markets in the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.

In addition, Herico said there are over 2 million overseas Filipino workers in these countries who are likely to consume Philippine tuna.

“There are 850,000 Filipinos in Dubai alone,” he said.

Dubai is the largest open city of UAE.

The Filipino diplomat said UAE alone has a per capita fish consumption of 50 kilograms every year.

He added that next year, tuna will be among the top seafood products in demand in the Middle East.

Herico specifically cited the fresh chilled yellowfin tuna from General Santos as among the most sought after fish products in the upscale market.

He added that most of the hotel managers and chefs of five and six star hotels in Dubai have managers that previously worked in Cebu and Manila.

These managers and chefs, he added, introduced Philippine tuna into their menus. Demand, he said, has since rocketed.

Herico spoke during the opening day of the 16th National Tuna Congress here where some 500 delegates are in attendance.

More cargo space

The government attaché said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alacala has already talked to Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific executives to accommodate 12 tons of extra cargo space for fresh chilled tuna in their direct flights to Dubai and other GCC countries.

He said the agriculture secretary has also asked the Philippines flag carriers to lower their cargo rates.

Cargo rates, he said, range from US$3.20 to US$3.50 per kilo.

General Santos City flies at least 5 tons of fresh chilled yellowfin tuna every day.

Fresh chilled tuna exporters used to have a 10-ton cargo allocation in Philippine Airlines flights from General Santos.

These sashimi-grade tunas end up in the US and Japan markets.

Canned tuna products

Herico also urged Philippine canned tuna producers to band together and come up with a single brand tuna product in order to better penetrate the Middle East market.

Thailand, he said, is dominating the canned tuna market in the Middle East.

The Middle East, he said, imports 100 container vans of canned and processed tuna every month.

Filipinos would likely patronize Philippine canned and processed tuna if it can penetrate the GCC market.

Thailand ranks first in the world in canned tuna production.  The Philippines is ranked second.