FAO meeting on global fish trade closes in Germany
Final report recommends action by FAO and its Member States on several fronts
16 February 2004, Bremen/Rome -- Countries participating in the 9th session of FAO's Sub-Committee on Fish Trade have issued a draft report outlining the challenges and opportunities facing FAO and its member countries as they work to promote a stronger and more responsible global trading system for fisheries products.
The report, drafted by the body on 14 February, came out of five days of deliberations in Bremen, Germany, in which 98 delegates from 49 different countries participated.
It contains recommendations that, if approved by FAO's Committee on Fisheries, will be incorporated into the activities of the agency's Department of Fisheries.
According to Greg Schneider, chairperson of this year's session, the talks also helped provide a framework for ongoing national and international work on fish trade issues.
"Countries not only recommended work that should be done by FAO, but also arrived at a broad consensus regarding what the challenges are for building a more responsible fisheries trade and what needs to happen next," he said. "Now they take that home, and there it feeds into their own policies on these issues, and into regional and international work as well."
Enhanced work on safety issues, collaboration with UN Convention on Endangered Species urged
Questions of food safety and better ways to protect the health of fish consumers in today's global marketplace topped the meeting agenda.
Many countries expressed concern over safety issues affecting the international fish trade and consumer perceptions of fish safety, including dioxins and PCBs in salmon and antibiotic residues in farmed fish.
"FAO was charged by the Sub-Committee with closely monitoring developments and emerging science related to these issues and to report back to its members so that measures aimed at protecting consumers are grounded in the best available information and don't unfairly restrict trade," said Lahsen Ababouch, Chief of FAO's Fish Utilization and Marketing Service.
Figuring prominently in the debate on safety was the emerging science of traceability - creating systems that track a fish's progress through trade networks from capture to consumption.
"The idea is to have a trustworthy record of how and where fish were farmed or caught, what processing it underwent, and how it was transported and stored, so that consumers know exactly what they are eating," explained Mr Ababouch.
Participants agreed that consumer safety is a top priority, but also called for the establishment of feasible, cost-effective, and internationally agreed-upon traceability standards and methodologies.
Developing countries - whose market share of fish trade in value terms runs around 50%, according to FAO - voiced concern over the costs of implementing such systems, and stressed the need for technical and capacity-building support.
"FAO stands ready to provide information, advice, and technical support to countries as these systems begin to be elaborated," said Hector Lupin, an expert on the issue with FAO's Fisheries Department.
The Sub-Committee also finalized the text of a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between FAO and the Secretariat of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The proposal, which offers a plan for closer FAO-CITES collaboration in the listing of commercially-exploited fish species as endangered, now goes to the CITES Secretariat for its consideration.
Standards for eco-labels to be developed
In addition, FAO was charged by the Sub-Committee with organizing a Technical Consultation in order to finalize guidelines on the use of eco-labels to protect fishery resources.
Under such schemes, fish farmed or captured in accordance with certain environmental standards are sold bearing a label which indicates that they were produced in a responsible, environmentally-friendly manner.
In October of 2003 FAO joined with world experts to produce a draft set of guidelines aimed at helping ensure that eco-labels used by different countries and companies adhere to a common set of science-based standards.
The follow-up Technical Consultation called for by the Sub-Committee will wrap up that work and issue a final draft for approval by FAO's 187 Member States. Once that is done, the guidelines will serve as a global benchmark for eco-labelling systems, and FAO will begin work on building national capacities to implement them.
FAO's Sub-Committee on Fish Trade was established in 1985. It is an advisory body made up of FAO Member States which meets every two years to share information, take up policy issues related to fish trade, and make recommendations to FAO regarding the agency's work on fisheries.
During its Bremen meeting the body also discussed issues such as strengthening the fish trade's contribution to food security, increasing access by developing countries and small-scale fishing operations to international markets, and improving catch reporting by fishing operations.
Seven Intergovernmental Organizations, including the OECD, and 13 different Non-Governmental Organizations also took part in the talks.
"The meeting was an excellent opportunity to share national experiences and learn from each other how to better manage aquatic resources," said Mr Ababouch.
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