FAO meeting on fish trade winds down
New standards for imports in major markets at centre of debates
5 June 2006, Santiago de Compostela (Spain)/Rome - The 10th meeting of the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (30 May – 2 June, Santiago de Compostela, Spain) was marked by vigorous debate among the 61 participating countries regarding the increasingly complex challenges of responsibly managing the globe-spanning fish trade sector.
Questions regarding new safety, quality, traceability and eco-labeling standards which are being increasingly imposed on fish imports by many authorities and retailers in the developed world featured prominently in the discussions.
Developing countries in particular noted that complying with such standards involves significant financial and technical burdens, especially since they are not universal but often vary greatly from market to market.
“We heard from all the delegations that ensuring consumer safety and bringing products to market that come from sustainable fisheries is of course extremely important,” explained Jorge Zuzunaga of Peru, who chaired the meeting. “It’s just that, as one delegate put it, a ‘bewildering array’ of different standards are being applied to fish imports, which can create confusion and problems -- especially for countries where production comes from small-scale or artisanal fishers.”
Developing countries need help
Developing countries rely heavily on fish exports to the developed world. They represent an important source of employment as well as a leading source of foreign exchange -- net earnings from fish trade by developing nations currently run over $20 billion a year.
“The challenge is two-fold,” commented Grimur Valdimarsson, Director of FAO’s Fisheries Industry Division. “First, making sure that import standards are fair and based on good science, and second, helping developing countries with resources and know-how so they can meet them.”
Noting that most of the fish that is consumed worldwide is produced by developing nations, he said that FAO would like to see more importing countries providing such assistance.
The future of fishing is now
According to Valdimarsson, another trend which emerged from the talks is a spreading understanding among fish-exporting countries that more rigorous management is critical in order to ensure the sustainability of fisheries and the future of the fish export sector.
FAO assessments of wild fish stocks show that out of the 600 major commercial species groups monitored by the Organization, 25 percent are either overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion.
“The countries here agreed that we don’t want to see the number of overexploited or depleted stocks grow,” Valdimarsson said. “If there are fewer fish, that is obviously not good for the people who depend on fishing to earn their living.”
Around 200 million people worldwide earn all or part of their living from the fisheries sector and related industries, according to FAO.
Follow-up discussions on responsible fish trade planned
These and other issues will be the subject of follow-up talks on proposed FAO guidelines on responsible fish trade, which the Organization presented in draft form to the Sub-Committee last week.
Though participating countries endorsed the idea of a voluntary set of guidelines aimed at ensuring that the fish trade does not undermine the responsible management of fisheries resources, they stopped short of adopting them. Instead, they recommended that the guidelines undergo additional work in order to better reflect ongoing changes in the international regimes governing fish trade.
Agreement on FAO-CITES collaboration
The Sub-Committee also approved a memorandum of understanding between FAO and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). The agreement establishes a mechanism through which FAO will provide CITES with technical recommendations when CITES considers adding a fish species of commercial value to its list of species subject to trade restrictions due to conservation concerns.
The FAO Sub-Committee is one of the only international forums dedicated to ongoing discussions regarding the global fish trade. Some 124 delegates representing 61 different governments, seven intergovernmental organizations and 13 non-governmental organizations attended this year’s meeting.
Information Officer, FAO
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