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Emerging issues and requirements relating to food safety and trade

S. Subasinghe, INFOFISH

133. Mr Subasinghe covered the major trends in the global seafood trade and how this relates to Asia and the Pacific region.

134. In the USA market, significant trends are the continuing rise of culture shrimp in the global market, as well as the more recent emergence of cultured tilapia and basa catfish. Tuna (canned) is in decline because of the declining consumer demand in the USA market and now shrimp has replaced this. In the European Union (EU) markets (with France, Germany, Italy, and Spain as major consumers) there is a sustained increase in consumption and demand by the EU countries for all products, both fresh and frozen, from Asia and the Pacific region. China is the principal exporting country for Asia and the Pacific region (shrimp and finfish) India and Thailand export shrimp and Viet Nam is a major exporter of basa catfish. EU is a major market for cooked and frozen tuna loins. The Japanese market is still depressed from earlier highs (in 2000), particularly for frozen products, although value-added products are increasing. Japanese household consumption has decreased from ~60 kg per capita to ~49 kg per capita. Changing food habits are partly responsible for this decrease, e.g. increased dining out and purchasing from supermarkets (processed products). China imports are increasing and consumption is also increasing. Increased purchasing power is also driving the import of more expensive products. China is importing from all regions (frozen shrimp, squids, cuttlefish, cultured salmon).

135. Tariff barriers are increasing with developed countries having lower tariff barriers but higher non-tariff barriers than developing countries. The slow progress of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations is leading to a proliferation of free trade agreements and bilateral arrangements. There is also a recent rise in anti-dumping measures, however, this does not appear to be affecting sales overall as flexible marketing allows products to be redirected (e.g. Viet Nam catfish redirected from the USA market to the EU market). Traceability requirements and food safety legislation are rising. Labelling and labelling fraud is also rising, particularly with mislabelling between wild and farmed product.

136. Supermarket purchasing power is a strong influence on global trade and is emerging in both developed and developing countries alike. The power of supermarkets is strongly affecting markets and trade, which are also increasingly influenced by environmental lobbying. Schemes for certification of products are proliferating, and branding is becoming an important marketing mechanism as countries, or parts of the sector, try to protect their market share. Organic certification and labelling is increasing, however, there are issues with certification and labelling because of the lack of international/global standards. Ethical issues (particularly humane slaughtering and non-sale of live fish) are increasingly becoming part of harvesting management.

Improving production standards to meet consumer requirements

Lahsen Ababouch, FAO Department of Fisheries

137. The international fish trade has expanded and globalized significantly during the last decade. In fact, fish and fishery products are the most traded foods in the world. Thirty eight percent (live weight equivalent) of the total yearly production, estimated at around 140 million tonnes in 2004, enter international trade.

138. Whereas fish supply from wild capture fisheries has stagnated over the years, the demand for fish and fishery products has continued to rise. Consumption has more than doubled since 1973. This increasing demand has been steadily met by a robust increase in aquaculture production, estimated at around 45 million tonnes in 2004 or 32 percent of total world fish production, from a mere 3.9 percent in 1970.

139. There has been an increasing focus on food safety in the international trade in seafood products. The main regulatory framework in the fish and seafood trade is the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement, often referred to simply as the SPS and TBT agreements. In the finalization of these agreements, the main issues have been liberalization of trade while providing for proper consumer, animal and plant protection. The SPS and TBT agreements are based on a number of general principles. These are:

140. The SPS agreement recognizes the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and the Organisation Internationale des Epizooties (OIE) as the international standard setting bodies, respectively for food safety and animal health, including live aquatic animals. However, there is still much to do to harmonize the many different fish safety schemes and standards.

141. The increased globalization and expansion of the international food trade has led to the development of an important retail and supermarket system, which is expanding rapidly to developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. As the last link between suppliers and consumers, retailers are developing business to business (B2B) standards to protect their reputation.

142. Likewise, food demand has been changing with the evolution of lifestyles, demographics and increase in household incomes. Increasingly demanding consumers expect not only safe and quality foods, but also a transparent and informative trail that can be used to trace the origin of food, its quality, as well as the environmental and/or social conditions of its production, processing and distribution. It is important to underline that both producers and processors are responsible for fish safety and quality along the food chain using preventive systems good aquaculture practices/good management practices (GAP/GMP), good hygienic practice (GHP), the Hazard Analysis and Criteria Control Point (HACCP) system. It is the responsibility of the control authorities to provide a regulatory framework and verify that producers and processors properly apply preventive systems.

143. It is a difficult balance to achieve good consumer protection and at the same time not enact sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical standards that can be used to shield domestic producers from foreign competition.

144. There is some concern that small-scale fishers and unorganized farmers are at a disadvantage in trade if measures that are too strict are put in place on food safety issues (e.g. HACCP). It is important to discuss what small-scale farmers can do to address these issues and what impact potential standards will have on these farmers. It was also noted that there is a potential for small-scale fishers and farmers in developing countries to do better to improve food safety standards. It was suggested that the main importing countries are not ready to lower food safety standards.

145. Standards for the global market need a competent authority to harmonize the standards. But it is up to the countries to nominate the institution(s) and the structure of fish control.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Alice McDonald, Marine Stewardship Council

146. The MSC aims to contribute to reversing the decline in global fish stocks by harnessing market forces to drive improvements in fishing practices. This is achieved through an independent, market-based certification and ecolabelling programme that promotes the best environmental choice to consumers and the trade. The MSC is operating in an increasingly favourable market environment, where consumers, the media and the trade are showing increasing interest in, and commitment to, sustainable seafood.

147. After a period of establishment and foundation building, the MSC is experiencing an expansion in global fisheries certification and market presence. In order to capitalize on experience and continually improve its programme the MSC is currently undertaking a number of strategic projects, including: a review of the quality and consistency of assessments against the MSC standard; developing assessment methodology; guidance to ensure equal access to small-scale and data-deficient fisheries; ensuring 100 percent consistency with the FAO guidelines for ecolabelling of fish and fishery products; and considering a potential MSC role in aquaculture certification.

148. These strategic initiatives will strengthen the organization, allowing the MSC to continue to encourage positive change in fisheries management. Asia and the Pacific region presents a number of challenges to the MSC because of the region's size and the diversity of fisheries and management schemes in place. However, being home to the largest tuna and aquaculture production areas of the world, the largest single country market and importer of seafood (Japan), and the two largest seafood consuming nations (China and Japan), the region is pivotal to the long-term achievement of the MSC's mission.

149. The main principles that are covered by the scheme, are sustainability of the stock, ecosystem impact and effective management. Entry to the scheme is by voluntary application, and assessment is undertaken by third party certifiers. A certified fishery can market products using the MSC label. Fisheries also commit to continuous improvement in order to maintain their MSC certification where appropriate. There are currently 21 certified fisheries and 16 currently under assessment, representing six percent of the global edible wild catch. There are currently 387 products in 26 countries that are derived from MSC certified fisheries. However, they are currently mainly available in the USA and the EU.

150. Experience with the MSC scheme has shown a broad range of benefits affecting the environment, society, industry and governance. In addition, market benefits can include market security, price premiums, access to new markets and product differentiation. For the industry, the scheme requires sustainable harvesting and good management, and traceability aspects of the certification can assist in marginalizing seafood products from IUU fishing activities.

151. It is essential that ecolabelling schemes are consistent with international instruments for standard setting and certification. This is to ensure that they are credible, robust and equally accessible by all interested parties. Although there are constraints in access to ecolabelling schemes for small-scale, developing countries' fisheries, ecolabelling is increasingly relevant to these fisheries. Constraints to entry include the information and data requirements, the costs associated with monitoring of the fishery and the costs of assessment for certification. MSC is currently looking at a number of ways to address these constraints, including finding sources for fisheries and reliable methods for assessing and certifying sustainable fisheries in data deficient fisheries (using local ecological knowledge etc.). In the Asian region, there is one fishery in assessment in Japan (snow crab and flounder) and there are two fisheries in Viet Nam currently in preliminary assessment.

152. Command and control mechanisms are of value, but can be more effective when complemented with positive incentives, such as those that ecolabelling can offer. Ecolabelling provides a range of opportunities to fisheries in Asia and the Pacific region, however, it is not a cure-all. Ecolabelling works alongside and complements existing fisheries management approaches in ensuring responsible fisheries.

Ecolabelling of aquatic products in ASEAN countries: mission possible?

Rattanawan Mungkung, Kasetsart University
Mali Boonyaratapalin, Martin Bjerner, Niklas Wennberg

153. Ecolabelling, i.e. environmental labelling, is introduced to support the sustainable trade of fisheries and aquaculture products as well as the sustainable livelihoods of local people in ASEAN countries who are the main global producers. These issues are even more important because of the increasing consumer demand for products that are environment-friendly, especially in Europe.

154. Because of the many questions raised over the advantages and disadvantages of ecolabelling implementation in the ASEAN countries, a regional study on the ecolabelling of aquatic products was conducted by a team of researchers from the Thai Department of Fisheries, Kasetsart University, SEAFDEC and the Swedish Board of Fisheries. The results indicate that many countries look at ecolabelling as a potential barrier to trade of ASEAN products. There is concern about the feasibility of applying ecolabelling to multi-species fisheries and aquaculture in the region and about certification costs, especially to small-scale producers.

155. However, there were also opportunities identified for ecolabelling schemes of, for example, extensive polyculture or low-input production systems. It was also found that national ecolabelling schemes exist in some ASEAN countries that could be adopted or adjusted to fisheries and aquaculture products.

156. Most ASEAN countries indicate a cautious attitude towards ecolabelling whose promotion would depend on future market developments. When and where implementation is considered, capacity building and technical and financial assistance is required. Regional and international institutions, including SEAFDEC, FAO, and the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), could play a role in this regard and could assist in various ways, including in the setting-up of pilot projects, awareness raising and market identification and development.

Recommendations of the APFIC Regional Consultative Forum

Aquaculture and fishery product standards and trade

157. As trade in fish products increase, food quality and safety issues, along with related issues of labelling, traceability and certification, are becoming increasingly important for countries in the APFIC region. The globalization and expansion of the international food trade has led to the development of fish safety and quality standards that have a significant impact on the international fish trade.

158. Technological developments in pre-harvest management, fish handling, preservation and distribution, consumers' increasing awareness and demand for safe fish of high quality, and global concerns over the use of safety and quality requirements as barriers to trade, have all contributed to the development of fish safety and quality standards and culminated in the adoption of HACCP-based systems and scientifically-based risk-assessment methods.

The regional consultative forum meeting noted that:

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