Trade and management: exclusive economic zones and the changing Japanese surimi market – US dominance of seafood supply market in Japan
John T. Sproul
Japan has traditionally enjoyed virtual self-sufficiency in the supply of seafood to its domestic markets. Yet, in recent decades, Japanese suppliers have become increasingly dependent upon imports to meet consumer demand for many of these fish products. In 1970, for example, Japan was virtually 100% self-sufficient in seafood production and supply. By 1988, however, according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization data, nearly one-fourth of Japan’s domestic seafood supply was derived from imports (Table 1). Indeed, by the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, seafood was among the few areas of international commerce in which Japan registered a “trade deficit.”
Table 1. — Japan’s rate of self-sufficiency by major crops and other
food groupings, 1960–88.(1)
Item 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1986 1987 1988
Rice 102 95 106 110 100 107 108 100 100
Wheat 39 28 9 4 10 14 14 14 17
Potatoes 100 100 100 99 96 96 96 94 93
Starch 76 67 41 24 21 19 20 18 15
Pulses 44 25 13 9 7 8 8 9 8
Vegetables 100 100 99 99 97 95 95 94 91
Fruits 100 90 84 84 81 77 74 74 57
Meat 91 90 89 77 81 81 78 76 73
Beef 96 95 90 81 72 72 69 64 58
Pork 96 100 98 86 87 86 82 80 77
Eggs 101 100 97 97 98 98 97 99 98
products 89 86 89 81 82 85 82 78 76
Fish 111 110 108 100 97 86 86 82 80
Seaweeds 92 88 91 96 74 74 76 72 76
Sugar 18 31 22 15 27 33 34 34 34
oils 42 31 22 23 29 32 32 30 33
supply 79 73 60 54 53 52 51 49 49
grains 89 80 74 69 69 69 69 68 68
Grains 82 62 46 40 33 31 31 30 30
products 91 86 81 77 75 74 73 71 70
products 113 112 104 92 90 79 84 78 78
Total food 98 94 88 82 80 76 77 74 72
(1)Source: MAFF, Food Balance Sheet; Fujita, 1991.
Japan’s Evolving Role in World Fisheries Trade
With the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, most of the world’s coastal nations (which had not formerly and unilaterally extended management jurisdiction over adjacent waters) instituted new resource management regimes in connection with the establishment of maritime Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). These regulatory changes have directly contributed to a fundamental shift in the relative status of the world’s coastal and distant-water fishing nations (Queirolo and Johnston, 1992).
Japan, historically among the largest distant-water fishing powers in the world, was, as a result, profoundly impacted by this new ocean management strategy. Over a very short period of time, Japan’s status in the world seafood market changed from a “net-exporter” of fishery products, to that of a “net-importer,” dependent on external supplies to meet domestic demand.
Prior to the middle 1970’s, Japan consistently reported annual catches and seafood exports which ranked at, or very near, the top among all nations. Likewise, the value of these catches and exports ranked number one among all reporting nations, over this period.
Over roughly the same interval of time, Japan ranked a relatively distant third, behind the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany, respectively, in terms of “volume of fishery imports,” despite the very much greater role of seafood in the daily diet of the Japanese consumer.(1)
Beginning in 1982, and in each year thereafter, however, Japan surpassed the U.S. as the world’s leading seafood importing nation, on the basis of product volume (1977 on the basis of value) (FAO, 1970–90). By 1989, Japan imported seafood valued at over US$10 billion, while U.S. imports were valued at less than US$6 billion (Fig. 1). In like fashion, since 1978, the United States has repeatedly outpaced Japan as the leading seafood exporter (on the basis of value) marking the beginning of Japan’s dependence on U.S. seafood suppliers and the reversal of their respective roles in the world seafood marketplace (Fig. 2). Such dependency constitutes a critical juncture in the history of a nation that maintains a population whose per capita annual consumption of fish and fishery products reached a near world record of 72.7 kg in 1989, second only to Iceland (FAO, 1991).
With the increasing trend towards “westernization” of the Japanese culture, the contribution of seafood to the average Japanese diet is decreasing. Nonetheless, seafood consumption remains extremely high relative to the rest of the world. For example, between 1961 and 1989, the “fish-to-animal protein” ratio in the average Japanese diet dropped from 67.9% to 50.6%. Over the same period in the United States, this ratio rose slightly from 4.6% to 6.4%.
In additiion, Japan’s role as a supplier of seafood in the world marketplace has been significantly altered. From a supplier of high-volume/high-valued seafood, such as fresh and fresh-frozen food products, Japan has become primarily an exporter of relatively lowvalued seafood commodities, such as fish meal, oils, and soluble fats (Sproul, 1992a). Canned seafood once accounted for a significant share of Japan’s fishery exports. Yet, between 1970 and 1989, Japanese exports of canned fish products declined by more than 65%. Rising world prices for canned seafood, especially in the United States, to some extent sustained Japan’s total seafood export value.
The Decision to Establish an EEZ
As suggested above, Exclusive Economic Zones, extending in most cases up to 200 n.mi. seaward from the coast of the declaratory country, radically restructured the world’s ocean fisheries. In so doing, it simultaneously reordered international importer-exporter relationships by limiting resource access to the majority of the world’s fishery resources on the basis of nationality.
By the mid–1970’s, in the view of the U.S. Congress, certain stocks of fish in the oceans adjacent to the United States had been severely overexploited. At least in part, this was believed to be a consequence of the rapid growth in fishing pressure and inadequate international management and conservation pratices. The best scientific information available suggested that some of these ocean stocks had reached a point where their very survival was in doubt, while many others appeared to be in serious danger of reaching the same degraded state.
Existing international fishery agreements were not preventing this destruction, nor were they mitigating the continued overfishing of these highly valued resources. Therefore, the U.S. Congress resolved to institute a national conservation and management program, extending over the United State’s living marine resources to prevent further degradation and to provide for the rebuilding of overexploited stocks.
The Congress also envisioned a program that would faciliate the “domestic” development of fisheries that, at the time, were underutilized, or not utilized at all, by the U.S. industry. The clear intent was to assure that benefits from employment, food supply, and commerce deriving from these fisheries would accrue to U.S. citizens. The result was adoption of the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (MFCMA or Act). And, after implementation of the MFCMA, foreign participation in virtually all northeastern Pacific and eastern Bering Sea fisheries was brought under U.S. jurisdiction, and most were dramatically curtailed.
In debating the Act, the U.S. Congress acknowledged that many coastal areas of the United States are historically dependent upon fishing and affiliated activities. The Congress further cited what it believed to be the adverse impact that massive foreign fishing fleets operating in waters adjacent to these communities had on them. Thus, in light of these findings, the Act was explicitly designed to promote domestic utilization of the fisheries resources of the EEZ, through displacement of foreign capacity and fishing activities.
To this end, a number of innovative management strategies were developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency principally charged with implementation of the Act. One important example was the “Fish and Chips” policy. “Fish and Chips” was first informally articulated in the late–1970’s. Reportedly, the initial use of “Fish and Chips” in negotiations took place in May 1977, when U.S. representatives discussed foreign fisheries allocations in the newly established U.S. EEZ with representatives from Italy, Spain, the EEC, and Japan (Freese, 1985). Subsequently, the policy was in large degree institutionalized in the form of the American Fisheries Promotion Act of 1980 (AFPA). As Freese (1985:157) notes, “The American Fisheries Promotion Act of 1980 increased the number of criteria (upon which access to the U.S. EEZ was based) to include cooperation of foreign nations in removing trade barriers, the purchasing of joint-venture and shoreside processed products, the minimization of gear conflicts, and the transfer of technology.”
As suggested, “Fish and Chips” was intended to facilitate the accelerated development of the U.S. domestic fishing industry. By rewarding foreign operators with temporary access to the U.S. EEZ, in return for fishing and processing technology transference, as well as access to overseas markets, these management policies contributed to the “Americanization” of fisheries for domestically underutilized species and greatly expanded participation by U.S. firms in the world fisheries marketplace. Under this management strategy, direct foreign access to fisheries allocations (referred to as TALFF) or cooperative operational allocations with U.S. fishermen (referred to as Join-Venture Processing) were employed to reward cooperative foreign operators and punish uncooperative nations. While the “Fish and Chips” policy was not without its problems and critics, and was not always rigorously or consistently applied, it nonetheless reflected a management philosophy geared to the rapid growth of the U.S. domestic fishing and processing sectors, a philosophy consistnet with the intent of the MFCMA.
By 1990, the fishery for Alaska or walleye pollock, Theragra chalcogramma, was totally “Americanized” (Fig. 3); and by 1991, as a result of the joint mandates of the MFCMA and AFPA, the entire North Pacific groundfish fisheries within U.S. waters were 100% “Americanized” (North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 1991), i.e., all direct foreign fishing activity within the North Pacific EEZ was eliminated, whether TALFF or Joint-Venture Processing. The impact of this policy on the northeastern Pacific pollock fishery and, in particular, the domestic Japanese food industry it supported, is the focus of the balance of this paper.
An Historical Context
According to Chitwood (1969), “The first trawling for groundfish off Alaska by an Asian nation occurred in 1929 when Japanese vessels explored the eastern Bering Sea. This exploration led to the development of a full scale commercial fishery in the eastern Being Sea in 1933.” These early Bering Sea groundfish fisheries were reportedly producing fish oil and meal. By 1940, additional Japanese groundfish trawl fisheries in this area had begun to produce catches which were forzen for human consumption.
World War II forced the japanese to curtail distant-water fisheries, including those in the northeastern Pacific and Bering Sea. By the middle 1950’s, however, Japanese trawlers were once again harvesting walleye pollock, among other species, from these waters. During the early 1960’s, the Japanese groundfish trawl fleet had expanded westward along the Aleutian chain and into the Gulf of Alaska.
This expansion was, in part, dependent upon a technological development made in early 1959 at the Hokkaido Fisheries Research Laboratory, Abashiri, Japan. Researchers there perfected a method of freezing processed minced fish meat which maintained both the chemical and textural integrity of the flesh. The resulting fish paste was referred to as surimi (Nishiya et al., 1961), and it is used to produce processed foods for human consumption.
Fresh surimi had long been the principal building block for a myriad of traditional Japanese foods using processed fish. However, until it was possible to produce a high quality frozen surimi, product storage, transportation, and shelf life were very limited. With the Hokkaido technological developments, demand for frozen surimi grew in Japan’s food processing industry. In the 1960’s, factory trawlers (ship-based frozen surimi plants) enabled Japan to dramatically increase exploitation of the previously underutilized North Pacific pollock resource. The fishery grew at an unprecedented rate, with Japanese commercial pollock catches increasing rapidly through the late 1960’s and reaching a peak in 1972 of 1.6 million metric tons (t).
Following Japan’s lead, several other nations began to harvest pollock from these waters (Table 2). These included distant-water fleets from the former U.S.S.R., the Republic of Korea, and, somewhat later, Taiwan, Poland, and the Federal Republic of Germany.
[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]
Walleye pollock is the primary species targeted by surimi producers in the North Pacific, with annual commercial catches, worldwide, reported to surpass 6,000,000 t (FAO, 1990). In the early 1970’s, Japan’s distant-water North Pacific trawl fleet, composed of factory trawlers and mothership operations, was the main domestic source supplying walleye pollock to the Japanese market (Fig. 4).
Japan’s Neriseihin Market
Walleye pollock is the preferred species in the production of surimi (Table 3). Japanese processors of surimi-based foods (neriseihin) grew dramatically in number as did production capacity during the expansionary period of Japan’s North Pacific distant-water trawl fleet. However, as management authority over North Pacific groundfish resources was claimed by the United States and Russia, this expanded surimi-dependent industry itself became increasingly reliant on imported surimi (Fig. 5).
Table 3. — Production of surimi from principal fishes in Japan:
Walleye(2) Sardine, Atka Horse
Year Total pollock mackerel mackerel mackerel Other
1975 422,727 416,250 2,908 5 3,564
1976 462,738 453,154 6,361 10 3,213
1977 446,365 428,983 13,044 1 4,337
1978 381,132 369,057 5,669 1 6,405
1979 380,909 366,366 7,459 21 7,053
1980 374,244 355,147 10,353 8,744
1981 367,518 349,238 1,674 9,064 7,542
1982 383,928 366,915 2,234 7,629 7,150
1983 389,805 374,380 3,914 3,141 8,370
1984 425,829 401,571 8,983 3,875 11,300
1985 396,174 364,068 13,451 3,540 15,115
1986 352,349 308,957 13,168 4,451 25,773
1987 307,751 283,345 5,260 2,464 16,682
1988 291,704 267,513 4,471 5,286 14,434
1989 287,070 264,447 3,215 5,973 13,435
1990 241,000 196,000 I(3) I I 45,000
1991 211,000 166,000 I I I 45,000
(1)Source: Japan Fishery Products Distribution Statistics; 1990–91 values from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, “Monthly Japanese Trade Report” – Ministry of Finance, as presented by All-Japan Kamaboko Makers Association at JETRO Surimi Forum, 1992, Tokyo.
(2)Includes fresh and frozen surimi processed at-sea or at land-based facility. J.V production excluded.
(3)I = included within “Other” category.
Note: Non-walleye pollock surimi is from land-based factories.
Japan’s National Surimi Association recently estimated annual world surimi production (Table 4). Their report revealed the increasing U.S. importance among major surimi producing nations. In just over 5 years (1985–91), Japan fell from the position of undisputed world surimi production leader to one of shared leadership with the United States.
[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]
Worldwide, the majority of walleye pollock harvesting capacity exists outside of Japan. In combination with the significant portion of surimi production occurring outside of Japan, apprehension within Japanese food processing industries that depend on adequate supplies of surimi at historically reasonable prices, intensified. These concerns were proven to be justified when, in 1991, Japan could not import sufficient quantities of surimi to compensate for its domestic production decline.
Besides greater amounts of American-produced surimi being exported to Korea, only a portion of which is reexported to Japan, poor landings of Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, increased European demand for walleye pollock, in the form of fillets. Higher profitability from fillet sales encouraged American processors to reallocate portions of their catch from surimi production to fillets destined for the European market. The result was an overall decline in global surimi production and, more importantly to Japan, reduced amounts of surimi available for importation.
Japanese Demand vs. World Supply of Surimi
The growing presence of U.S.-produced surimi in the Japanese import market is significant. From 1986 to 1992, direct imports (not including joint-venture products) of U.S.-produced surimi rose from 1.5% to 28.2% of the Japanese market, peaking in 1990, when it accounted for 31.2% of total supply (Sproul, 1992b).
Japanese domestic demand for surimi has continued to exceed domestic supply. Through 1991, “high-quality” surimi imports received an increasingly higher market price. Traditionally, price differentiation is a function of quality. For surimi, quality distinction is primarily attributed to production conditions. Given the enzymatic and biochemical characteristics of pollock, once harvested, tissue quality diminishes rapidly (Ehira and Uchiyama, 1974; Lerk, et al., 1965; Ang and Hultin, 1991). The Japanese generally believe that, due to faster conversion from live fish to frozen surimi, factory ship operations produce higher quality surimi. Following this reasoning, Japanese importers categorize surimi into several grades, based partly on whether it was produced by at-sea or shore-based operations. The result is a multi-tiered, grade-dependent, hierarchy of the surimi product based on both real and perceived quality differences.(2)
While the distinction has become less meaningful, the Japanese convention of distinguishing between “at-sea” and “shore-based” sources of pollock surimi will be retained for purposes of examining trends in product supply and price for the balance of this paper.
Surimi Price Trends
Surimi prices in Japan have increased dramatically since 1976 for all three principal grades of surimi (Fig. 6). In part, due to speculation and uncertainty about future supply, surimi prices rose dramatically in 1977. The annual average price for high grade at-sea surimi remained high through 1980. However, in 1981, a significant downward price adjustment occurred, due partly to improved confidence in future product availability resulting from joint-venture arrangements with U.S. catcher boats that remained firm throughout the early 1980’s. From 1978 to 1990, prices for shore-based surimi remained relatively constant. Exceptions to this were the 1981 downward price adjustment previously described and the 1986 price peak associated with the dramatic appreciation in the Japanese yen.(3)
However, between January and December 1991, prices of at-sea and shore-based surimi increased 100% and 50%, respectively (Fig. 7). Several factors contributed to this dramatic surge in Japan. As previously noted, domestic demand outpaced available surimi supply in Japan during 1990. In addition, by that same year, walleye pollock joint-venture operations had been phased out in the U.S. EEZ. To some extent, this caused the surimi industry in Japan to relapse temporarily into its 1977 apprehension over future supply. To exacerbate matters further, prices for walleye pollock fillets, relative to surimi, rose in late 1990 with the decline in the North Atlantic groundfish fishery (Freese, 1991). This economic climate of relatively high pollock surimi prices may well have been perpetuated by the announcement from Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans of a 2-year moratorium on the northern Atlantic cod fishery effective June 1992 (World Fishing, 1992).
As a result, demand for walleye pollock fillets bid surimi prices up on the world market. Prices peaked in Japan in late 1991 when domestic production of surimi-based foods was in full-swing to meet high seasonal domestic consumer demand during December and January. Figure 7 reveals the dramatic rise in monthly surimi prices from late 1990 through 1991, as well as their tapering off again in early 1992. Restocking of low frozen surimi cold-storage inventories in Japan was prompted in the spring and summer of 1992 as prices began to ease (Fig. 8).
Japan’s Changing Consumer Behavior
The Japanese have shifted from their traditional position of high rates of saving relative to personal consumption, to a “nation of consumers” (Emmott, 1989). This is a direct result of rising personal income and the elimination of tax-exempt status for personal savings in the late 1980’s. Between 1975 and 1987, Japan’s private sector net financial wealth-to-income ratio rose from 0.99% to 2.17%, while the saving ratio over the same time period fell from 22.8% to 15.1% (OECD, 1990).
This economic prosperity has provided many Japanese consumers with opportunities that were otherwise unavailable at their previous level of expendable income. The Japanese domestic seafood market underwent transition as consumer became increasingly more selective as their personal wealth rose in the 1980’s during the rapid growth of the national “bubble” economy.(4) Demand for high-valued fresh/frozen seafoods, now primarily import goods, grew. Generally, neriseihin foods would be among those processed food groups which Japanese consumers substituted for and moved away from.
Over the past decade, several factors have broadened the list of foods considered “acceptable” in the Japanese marketplace. These have encouraged diversity in consumption among seafoods and between competitive meat product forms. Among these influences are “price effects” resulting from nationalized EEZ fishing jurisdiction, “income effects” due to rising Japanese personal wages, and “taste effects” created by greater exposure through travel and exposure to nontraditional Japanese cultures and consumables.
Engel Curve Analysis
Trends in Japanese household consumption were investigated as a function of income, over time (1980 through 1990), using Engel curves to quantify consumption patterns of neriseihin and competitive protein sources, i.e., chicken, pork and beef.(5) Changes observed between Engel curves of these commodities, but during the same year, would reflect variations in the relative consumption of each food category within the home. The result provides a means of detecting consumption trends for specific food groups.
The Annual Report on the Family Income and Expenditure Survey provides household expenditure data on specific foods (SBMCAJ, 1991). The expenditure values for neriseihin, beef, chicken and pork were converted to consumption quantities by dividing them by their respective average annual price as calculated for each income category. Regression analysis was conducted on these quantities as a function of income, generating Engel curves for each food category for the years 1980, 1985, and 1990. Figure 9 A, B, and C combines Engel curves of each food for the years 1980, 1985, and 1990, respectively. These data thus give comparisons among the years in household consumption of these foods.
To help visualize the implications of these shifts specifically to the average household in Japan, a vertical line corresponding to average nominal household annual income is provided in Figure 9 A, B, C. Using this average household income level ([X, bar above]) as a reference, the estimated quantities consumed at home (Y^) of each food group for the average household in Japan during 1980, 1985, and 1990, are quantified and presented in Table 5.
Table 5.–Estimated household consumption of pork, chicken, beef, and
neriseihin within an average income household representative of 1980, 1985, and 1990.
Annual rate Annual rate
of change: of change:
1980(1) 1985(2) 1980–85 1990(3) 1985–90
Food item (g/yr) (g/yr) (%) (g/yr) (%)
Pork 21,029 18,886 -2.2 18,299 -0.6
Chicken 14,529 14,937 +0.6 13,178 -2.5
Beef 9,275 10,162 +1.8 11,540 +2.6
Neriseihin 13,371 13,299 -0.1 9,937 -6.0
(1)based on annual average household income of [yen]4,196,232;
(2)based on annual average household income of [yen]5,338,152;
(3)based on annual average household income of [yen]6,261,084; as reported in Annual Report on the Family Income and Expenditure Survey, 1991. Note: All figures calculated using respective Engel curve equations for each food at corresponding year.
As hypothesized, the annual rate of change in household consumption of neriseihin dropped most significantly in Japan during the second half of the 1980’s (also Table 5). This correlated with a time of dramatic yen appreciation that followed the 1985 Plaza Accord.(3) It created conditions that allowed previously expensive foreign produced goods to appear increasingly more price competitive, relative to domestic products. This period proved especially devastating for neriseihin consumption, given its exacerbated problem of rising real prices.
These results confirm the evolving nature of the Japanese consumer’s food preferences, as reflected in the retail marketplace. While the reasons for these changes are complex and numerous, we would argue that an important factor has been the increased dependence of Japan on “import” sources for many of its primary animal protein food stuffs, but particularly for seafoods. Had international fisheries management not so suddenly and broadly excluded Japan from directly accessing distant-water fisheries resources, the patterns of change within the Japanese market, cited above, may not have been so pronounced nor so rapid. The result may have been a more systematic and less disruptive adjustment to a changing world marketplace.
Over the past decade, significant shifts in consumption patterns have occurred within Japanese households, especially in terms of specific seafoods. These have occurred in part as a result of trends in the international marketplace and marine resource management regime. As a result, Japan’s food industry is changing from being production-export oriented to consumption-import oriented.
In 1990, total value of all food imported by Japan exceeded US$31 billion ([yen]4.5 trillion). As anticipated, recent years have seen various food production industries in Japan experience dramatic restructuring. Japan’s seafood industry has been especially hard hit by the onset of the 200-mile EEZ era. Shifts in relative commodity prices and annual personal income have contributed to influencing household consumption patterns in Japan. Changes occurring between 1980 and 1990 were quantified using Engel curve analysis. The relevance of this exercise was to present implications for seafood demand in Japan resulting from relative price shifts among fish products and close competitive animal protein sources. Disproportionally rapid price increases among specific marine products relative to competitive proteins can potentially occur from external fisheries management decisions made by government bodies endowed with authority over those resources.
Generally, the mandate of most international and national marine resource management authorities is to protect future biological viability of their fishery stocks. In the case of the Magnuson Act of 1976, socioeconomic criteria are also incorporated in an attempt to attain “optimum sustainable yield” (as contrasted with “maximum sustainable yield) from the resource (Federal Register, 1983). Implied in this concept is a degree of responsibility by managers to domestic interests utilizing the resource.
Therefore, to this end, the implications that U.S. management decisions have for Japanese household consumption via market effects might well be considered by decision makers. That is, when the management decisions undertaken by one government have such profoundly significant influences, both short- and long-term, on demand in a key world seafood market, these impacts should be explicitly assessed and appropriately weighted in the decision process. Certainly, the linkages between national and/or international fishery management institutions and domestic food policies among users of these important resources need more careful examination. How the concerns of the EEZ nations and those of traditional user nations can be jointly accommodated in the management decision process is a challenge which will confront all parties well into the 21st century.
(1)Japan ranked second, behind the United States, in terms of the value of imports over this period.
(2)Technological advances in surimi production, as well as improvements in fish handling and transportation of catch, have reportedly narrowed the perceived quality gap between at-sea and shore-based surimi. Indeed, at the time of this writing, shore-based processors operating in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska produce surimi of all three principal grades, including “SA” or highest grade product. Likwise, at-sea processors do not produce a single, high-grade product, but instead respond to market signals and changing fish quality to produce the most appropriate grade of surimi at any given time. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to place too great an emphasis on the distinction between at-sea and shore-based product.
(3)The strong appreciation in the value of the Yen followed the Reagan-Nakasone 1985 Plaza Accord.
(4)This phrase is commonly used by the Japanese media to describe the rapid growth of Japan’s national economy during the late 1980’s.
(5)Engel curves are a means of quantifying shifts in consumption over time across and within income brackets. An Engel curve is a function relating the equilibrium quantity purchased of a commodity to the level of money income. The slope of the Engel curve at any given point indicates the income elasticity of demand for the good at that corresponding income level. Generally, income elasticities calculated for a particular good correspond to the average income level for the population under scrutiny. An Engel curve implicitly assumes constant prices for the time period evaluated.
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