In 2012, according to an EC report citing Eurostat figures, EU imports of live plants and floriculture products fell by 4.5% overall in volume terms, with import volumes falling across all categories since 2008. However, the value of EU imports in 2012 rose by 1.6% compared to 2011. The declining trend in import volumes continued into the first quarter of 2013, falling by 5.5%, with the value of imports also falling some 3.4%.
However, there has been a long-term growth trend in import volumes from Kenya and Ethiopia, mainly in the category of cut flowers. A slight dip in import volumes from Kenyan occurred in 2012, with import volumes from Ethiopia levelling off. Kenya and Ethiopia now represent 24% and 9% respectively of EU imports of live plants and floriculture products.
The main EU markets for imports are Germany, France, the UK and the Netherlands, with the Netherlands the centre of the cut-flower and foliage trade.
In terms of serving the EU market, Kenya's main competitors are Colombia and Ecuador, which account for 17 and 9% of the sector's global trade. However, Colombian exports are primarily destined for the US market (76%), and the USA is the destination for 38% of Ecuadorian exports.
Overall, Kenya's main competitor in the global trade in live plants and flower products is in fact the EU. EU exports of live plants and floriculture products grew strongly from 2003 to 2008, dipped slightly in 2009 and then showed renewed growth. In 2012, the value of EU exports grew by 10.3% compared to 2011, with growth continuing into the first quarter of 2013 at 6.1%. The EU's main export destination is Russia (23.9%), followed by Switzerland (19.3%), Norway (7.7%) and the USA (7.5%). China currently takes 3.5% of the EU's live plant and floriculture exports. Overall, the EU has maintained a positive trade balance since 2002, amounting to 313 million in 2012.
According to press reports, Kenya has seen growth of 68% from 2010 to 2012 in its trade in live plants and floriculture products with Russia. The start of Kenya Airways' direct flights to China is seen as opening up new opportunities for flower exports. Currently China takes 5% of Kenyan flower exports, with the possibility this will now rise to 10%, with China being seen as the "next high-volume importer of cut flowers".
According to the Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency, in the past decade Ethiopia has emerged as the second largest exporter of cut flowers in Africa and the fourth largest in the world: earnings for 2013 are projected to reach US$250 million. Although Indian investors are playing an increasing role in the sector, 90% of Ethiopian exports are still destined for the EU market.