As the climate in the EU is not suitable for the production of tropical fruit, the EU relies on imports of tropical fruits such as bananas –the most popular fruit in Europe–, pineapples, kiwifruit, avocados and mangos.
Temperate and sub-tropical species such as citrus fruit, grapes and pears are imported as well, but mainly in out of the European growing season. Countries in the southern hemisphere are able to supply when the countries in the northern hemisphere can not. This is also known as counter-season supply. For fruit products that can be stored, such as apples, the counter season is less evident. With the continual improvements in storage life and storage conditions of fruit products, the off-season is shortened.
EU countries have a high degree of internal supply for vegetable products. Only occasionally, for instance in cases of poor harvests or during the off-season period, products are imported from outside the EU. Some vegetables can be grown in controlled conditions such as greenhouses (glass or plastic), reducing the risk of a bad harvest and extending the supply period.
The possibilities of exports to the EU are small for products that are highly perishable or delicate such as lettuce and other leafy vegetables. When the harvest in the EU countries is too small and vegetables need to be imported, countries that are located close to the EU have the advantage of short transportation time and lower transport costs.
When analysing EUROSTAT trade statistics, we find that major vegetable products with a high degree of self-sufficiency are lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes and sweet pepper. Developing countries play an important role in the supply of peas and beans during the off-season. Other important off-season products supplied by developing countries are snow peas (mange-tout), sweet peppers and courgettes.