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GLOBEFISH - Analysis and information on world fish trade

Market Access Information by Country

Trade plays a major role in the fishery and aquaculture sector as a creator of employment, a food supplier, an income generator, and as a contributor to economic growth, development and food nutrition and security.

For many countries and numerous coastal, riverine, insular and inland regions, fishery exports are essential to the economy. The fisheries sector operates in an increasingly globalized environment, and fish may often be produced in one country, processed in a second and consumed in a third.

A variety of trade-related policy tools, at both the national and global level, play a significant role in shaping fisheries production and trade, particularly when it comes to accessing international markets. However, it can be challenging for countries, producers and exporters to fully understand relevant international and national regulations and to adhere to constantly evolving requirements. Reducing imbalances in accessing and understanding market information is an important step towards the broader goal of creating a more inclusive trading system for developing countries and small and medium stakeholders.

This short introduction aims to provide a general overview of the international trade regulatory framework applicable to fish and fishery products, including relevant web pages by country.

The regulatory framework-a brief guided tour

Trade

At the global level, the World Trade Organization (WTO) can be considered the main actor shaping the regulatory framework for international trade, including for fish and fishery products. The World Trade Organization (WTO) serves member countries as the natural forum for negotiating and setting rules for trade between them on a multilateral basis and as the locus for settling trade-related disputes that may arise. The WTO trading system is based on principles of transparency, predictability and security for all its member countries, following a general approach of non-discrimination.

Taking into consideration the comprehensiveness of trade, other United Nations agencies, conventions, related instruments and bodies provide the additional necessary inputs and support to the WTO to ensure that the multilateral trade regulatory framework works coherently and smoothly. This means that areas such as development, environment, food safety and animal health, market access, services, trade facilitation, economic research and statistics and trade policy review, among others, rely on joint efforts between the WTO and other international organizations, particularly in the case of fish and fishery products.

A key component of the WTO’s mandate to serve as the main international forum for reducing obstacles to international trade and ensuring a level playing field for all member countries, is its suite of trade agreements – sixteen of them being “multilateral agreements” (to which all the WTO members are parties) and two differentiated ones, called “plurilateral agreements”, to which only some WTO members are parties.

Those multilateral agreements and associated documents cover a wide range of trade issues, including:

  • Import Tariffs
    WTO member countries have been informed of and agreed on the maximum level of import tariffs by product (the “bound tariffs”), which were registered at the WTO in their respective schedules. They periodically report to the WTO their current import tariffs applicable to all products (the “applicable tariffs”), including preferential tariffs (reduced tariffs for specific countries or group of countries).
  • Food Safety and Animal Health
    The WTO suite of agreements, particularly the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS), encourages member countries to use international standards on food safety and animal health and to recognize other countries' procedures as equivalent if the same level of protection is achieved in international trade. A higher level of protection is allowed, provided that it is based on risk assessment aligned with the standards, guidelines and recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius (Codex) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and takes into consideration the guiding principle of not creating unnecessary negative trade effects.
  • Technical Barriers
    WTO member countries can take regulatory trade measures necessitated by, inter alia, national security requirements, quality requirements, protection of human health or safety, protection of animal or plant life or health, protection of the environment or prevention of deceptive practices. However, those technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures should not constitute unnecessary barriers to international trade.
  • Subsidies
    For the WTO, fish and fishery products are classified as industrial goods and, therefore, rules regarding the use of subsidies are contained in the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM). In general terms, since subsidies usually create artificial competitive advantage and distort trade flows, the WTO rules regulate their use by setting specific benchmarks and assessments. However, in the case of fisheries, the current WTO rules on subsidies are not completely able to deal with prohibitions and authorizations of government support measures to the sector. For capture fisheries, since the product has no origin before it is caught (except for products originated within areas of national jurisdiction), if there is any government support measure (subsidy) to fund the activity, the distortion will be generated both when utilizing the resource and when the product is being traded. During the current negotiating round at the WTO, countries agreed to clarify and improve the WTO rules applicable to fisheries subsidies so that they also cover this second distortive effect (access to the resource).

Oceans

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a unified and coherent framework of rights and responsibilities applicable to the world’s oceans, emphasizing an integrated approach as well as outlining specific duties with regard to the preservation, conservation and management of living marine resources – including fish. The Convention stresses the importance of cooperation among countries when dealing with a shared resource.

In order to achieve its objectives, UNCLOS has defined maritime zones (territorial sea, economic exclusive zone, and the high seas) that have become very important in setting parameters for fish production and trade. More specifically, UNCLOS maritime zones serve as the primary criteria for the determination of the national origin of a fish product. The determination of the origin of the product is a fundamental component of conferring any reduced import tariff benefit based on bilateral or regional agreements relating to a specific product. In addition, for shared stocks within the boundaries of neighboring countries or within a region, UNCLOS has set out specific cooperation schemes that should be implemented in order to facilitate resource management and avoid sustainability issues.

In addition, the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, which builds on the relevant provisions of UNCLOS, addresses problems relating to the management of high seas fisheries, establishing a comprehensive legal regime for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. This Agreement is based on the fundamental principle of cooperation as established in UNCLOS, namely that countries should cooperate to ensure conservation and promote the optimum utilization of fishery resources, both within and beyond areas under national jurisdiction.

The 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement covers fish stocks that regularly migrate over long distances, including those that pass through high seas and areas under national jurisdiction. It also covers fish stocks situated both within a country’s exclusive economic zone (up to 200 nautical miles offshore), and in the adjacent high seas.

Fisheries

The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries provides principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of all fisheries. The Code of Conduct combines principles present in other related instruments, such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement (FAOCA) and the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA), among others. The “General Principles” section of the Code (Chapter 6) is a comprehensive list of fundamental propositions guiding the majority of international instruments dealing directly or indirectly with fish and fishery products. The Code aims to promote responsible management and a conservation approach towards the rational and sustainable exploitation of world fisheries. It addresses a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Article 7      -     Fisheries Management
  • Article 8      -     Fishing Operations
  • Article 9      -     Aquaculture Development
  • Article 11    -     Post-harvest Practices and Trade
  • Article 12    -     Fisheries Research 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments that seeks to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants (including fish) does not threaten their survival. Species are grouped in the CITES appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade: 

  • Appendix I contains the most endangered species, for which international trade is prohibited except for non-commercial purposes;
  • Appendix II lists species that may become threatened if not monitored, for which international trade may be authorized by granting an export permit;
  • Appendix III contains species already regulated by some countries, for which trade is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates, and for which country cooperation is needed to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation.

An updated list of CITES species is available here.

The FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) sets robust measures applicable at the port level to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources. The Agreement also reduces the possibility that fish and fishery products originating from IUU operations are traded and enter into markets.

The FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes should be used as a reference for the establishment of systems that can trace fish from their point of capture through the entire supply chain in order to stop illegally caught fish from entering markets. Catch documentation schemes (CDSs) offer a means to restrict trade in IUU fish by requiring that shipments of fish be certified by national authorities as being caught legally and in compliance with best practices, with hard-copy documentation accompanying the fish as they are processed and marketed nationally or internationally. Only fish with valid documentation can be exported or traded to markets where a CDS requirement exists.

The contents of this website are for general information and illustrative purposes only. For updated and accurate information please contact the entities listed herein or FAO.

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