Audun Lem
Fishery Industries Division

Even though the conference did not deal explicitly
with aquaculture, many of the topics touched upon
are higly relevant (export revenues and food
security, eco-labelling, HACCP, food security
obtained through aquaculture production for local
consumption, etc.).





The FAO E-mail Conference on Fish Trade and
Food Security (FTFS) was held between 19 October and 12 December 1998. The Conference had its genesis in a recommendation in 1997 of the FAO Advisory Committee on Fishery Research (ACFR) which identified three topics as deserving particular scrutiny: trade and food security; the distribution of benefits from trade; and barriers to international fish trade.

In response, FAO’s Fish Utilization and Marketing Service (FIIU) commissioned three papers, one on each of the particular topics, and those papers were put forward as starting points for discussion in the e-mail conference:

• does international trade in fishery products contribute to food security ? (by John Kurien)

• distribution of benefits from international trade

in fishery products (by Ragnvaldur Hannesson)

• barriers to international trade in fisheries
(by Cathy R. Wessels).

There were over 150 persons on the list of participants, with a significant participation from developing countries. In all, there were 21 formal interventions, plus additional notes and comments from the Secretariat. 


The discussion centred quickly on various aspects of globalization and the implications for fish trade and food security. It became clear that there exist varied interpretations of food security, depending on level of aggregation: local, national, international, regional and global.

The lack of a clear definition of "trade barrier" with its various implications was also addressed by many.

Certain topics stimulated more response than others. In particular, issues such as eco-labelling and HACCP, and the need for more market and product development were debated by many participants.

The key arguments stated were the following:

• Several participants stated that, in general, international trade could only marginally solve the food security problem, but that fish trade is necessary for food security for many landlocked countries. There is no firm evidence to show that fish exports are detrimental to food security in the export country as the products exported generally are different from those consumed locally. At the same time, there is no substantial evidence that fish export revenues subs-tantially alleviate poverty problems in the exporting country. Several participants stated, however, that this aspect is more a problem related to distribution of benefits from trade rather than a problem inherent in trade as such.

• Several countries fear that their sovereign right to fishery management might be infringed by eco-labelling schemes. However, eco-labels may be attractive to consumers in some markets but it is in doubt whether consumers are willing to pay enough to cover the costs. If not, the costs will have to be born by producers. With 50% of fish exports coming from developing countries, this fact will have particular consequences for producers in these countries. Some participants stressed that eco-labels must in any case be considered just an additional tool in fisheries management, alongside more traditional measures.


Cultured seabream being prepared

for export from Greece

(Photo by Audun Lem)

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• The introduction of mandatory HACCP schemes for fish exports to the most important markets has had consequences for exporters in developing countries. There was disagreement over whether HACCP can be considered a non-tariff trade barrier, as exporters are able to influence their own position and adapt to the new regulations. Several participants mentioned that trade barriers, even though lower than in the past, remain considerable in many parts of the world, especially for processed fish products.

• Several participants stressed the need for more research into the development of new products to satisfy low-income markets. There was disagreement over whether available processing techno-logies are insufficient for production of low-cost fish products or whether there are particular causes behind lack of distribution of available products, such as frozen pelagic species. Several participants urged a reduction in use of fish for non-food purposes and a reduction in discards.

• Some participants stressed that subsidies and overcapacity are problems in international fisheries,as are ill-defined property rights to resources in many countries.


It was recommended that the FAO Advisory Committee on Fishery Research consider the possibility of investigating the effects of trade in fish products on those individual countries that are thought to be at risk of uncertain food supplies.

It was recommended that FAO and other international, non-industry organizations attempt, within the resources available, to undertake more market research and stimulate further product development in low-cost fish products, including improvement of traditional production methods such as drying, smoking, curing and freezing.


Participants seemed satisfied with the format and operation of the conference, despite the limitations that it was conducted in English only, a fact that caused several comments. The e-mail conference format was regarded as a cost-effective way to reach a large, disperse and diverse group of persons with an interest in international fish trade and food security issues. The Secretariat requested suggestions for future activities related to the topic, and proposals were made for similar conferences on related topics. To reach more focused and profound discussions in each theme, suggestions were made to concentrate on one topic for each conference.

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