39. Mr Andy Smith (formerly staff member of the FAO Fisheries Technology Service) presented the outcomes of the ninth session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade held in February, 2004. He explained events leading up to current FAO initiatives aimed at developing harmonized documents from the plethora of existing documentation schemes, and associated challenges. He explained that one of the biggest issues was identifying fish species from semi-processed products. Mr Smith noted several examples of successful catch documentation as well as the fact that an era of real-time reporting using electronic communications has begun. In this context, some Sub-Committee members had asked that the FAO should work towards the eventuality of a paperless system of documentation. There also seemed to be a need to clarify the terminology "catch documentation scheme" as raised by COFI.
40. Mr Smith indicated that the Sub-Committee had expressed the view that RFB contracting parties, not their Secretariats, should decide whether it was necessary to harmonize catch documentation schemes. It had also discussed the prospect of partial harmonization. The Sub-Committee held the view that FAO has an important role of play in ensuring that trade documentation does not develop in different directions, but it was not considered necessary to convene another Expert Consultation or Technical Consultation.
41. From an RFB point of view, the Meeting Chairperson clarified that a number of RFB secretariats have in fact called for catch documentation harmonization on behalf of their contracting parties contrary to the view reported by Mr Smith. He also expressed surprise that the Sub-Committee felt that the range of existing documentation indicated that the task would be futile, recalling that the participants in RFB IV had sought to better understand the potential range of issues associated with catch document harmonization, including future directions for any such development. The Chairperson encouraged RFBs collectively to contribute to the ongoing debate on catch documentation harmonization, and emphasized the potential importance of the outcome of the 2007 meeting of tuna RFBs proposed by Japan during COFI.
42. From a wide ranging discussion, the Meeting identified a number of common elements. These included: (a) the need to acknowledge continuing activity to advance catch documentation, including through programmes in various fora, (b) the need to acknowledge COFI's support for FAO to continue its work on the harmonization of catch documentation, and (c) the need to recognize that RFBs have different mandates with the consequence that there is a need to identify common elements that can be harmonized and vice versa. Mindful that the objectives of document schemes differ among organizations, it is helpful to understand how documents are being used and applied by various RFBs. Thus, a need to reflect further on the scope of documents and geographical areas was also identified. The Meeting also recognized that on-going initiatives to harmonize species tariff codes should be encouraged and expedited. In general, it was acknowledged that catch document harmonization is a complex and highly technical issue and it is also necessary to ensure that schemes are kept simple, achievable and, as far as possible, standardized.