COFI: FT/VIII/2002/Inf.11

Item 11 of the Provisional Agenda



Eighth Session

Bremen, 12-16 February 2002


Table of Contents


1. As the Sub-Committee noted already in past sessions, a large share of world production of aquatic animals enters international marketing channels. More than 90% of this trade consists of processed products in one form or other and in general represents products from the higher value segments. The international dimension of the world's fishery and aquaculture economy is likely to persist and may even expand further. The competition for raw material for products to be traded in the countries of origin and also between domestic and international markets may be expected to gain intensity also due to progress in preservation and transport technology and to communications and information. Under these conditions, the role of the regulatory framework governing international fish trade will become stronger.

2. This, in turn, implies that the principles, rights and obligations established in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements are likely to play a prominent role. Other instruments such as the relevant provisions of the voluntary Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries or of the UNCED Agenda 21 will remain important elements of the framework, to mention some examples. Furthermore, with the confirmation in the international market place of quality assurance systems like HACCP, ISO 9000 and Total Quality Management, the greater transparency required to comply with WTO rules, as well as traceability requirements, will continue to make technical assistance and advice on these matters a prerequisite for successful participation of developing countries in international trade in products from fisheries and aquaculture including in services related to it, e.g. fishing, processing.


3. The principles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) govern international trade in fishery products since 1947. The history of GATT and the results of the various rounds of multilateral trade negotiations (MTN) are well known; they culminated in the Uruguay Round and the establishment of the WTO. For the purpose of this information paper, it is sufficient to mention only those agreements which are considered to carry particular relevance for international trade in fishery products.

Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement)

4. The SPS Agreement is one of the most relevant for fish trade as sanitary measures may prove to be a means of protectionism for importing countries. Seafood safety has gained very considerably in importance over the last years, and a rather complex set of trading situations has evolved as a result of increased trade in fishery products. In addition, seafood safety and quality measures can be effective non-tariff barriers to trade.

Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement)

5. Technical regulations and standards applied to fishery products may at times lead to distortions or obstacles to trade. A relatively recent development is the eco-labelling of fishery products intended to inform consumers about a product's origin, with particular reference to sustainability and management of the resource and environmentally friendly harvesting and processing methods.

Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures

6. The Agreement on Subsidies would seem to govern subsidies in the fisheries sector in view of the fact that fish and fishery products were excluded from the Agreement on Agriculture. It may play an important role in future multilateral trade negotiations.

Dispute settlement

7. A major step forward was achieved with the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes which established the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) and a standing Appellate Body. Whereas under the GATT panel reports could be rejected by parties, the report of the Appellate Body once adopted by the DSB (can decide by consensus not to adopt) shall be unconditionally accepted by the parties to the dispute (Article 17.14 of the Understanding).


Codex Alimentarius Commission

8. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has been supported in its work by the now universally accepted maxim that people have the right to expect their food to be safe, of good quality and suitable for consumption. The Codex Alimentarius comprises:

Fishery products are dealt with by the Codex Committee on Fish and Fishery Products in principle; however, the work of other committees responsible for matters concerning the entire food range may be relevant also as the case may be, e.g. Committee on Food Hygiene or on Food Import and Export Certification and Inspection.

Food Safety

9. Consumers are increasingly becoming involved in the process of regulation and are no longer just a part of the market place, accepting or rejecting products on the ground of price or quality. The record shows that, with the exception of molluscan shellfish (eaten raw or undercooked), fishery products are not strongly implicated in disease outbreaks even though, in the public's view, seafood is suspected of being a common vehicle for food poisoning.

Codex and SPS

10. The standards, guidelines and recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) are voluntary; they can have legal value only when incorporated into national regulations. However, the SPS agreement gave them de facto legal value at international level, in the sense that they are taken as a first reference on food trade international controversies. Regarding food safety "international standards, guidelines and recommendations" to be taken as reference will be those "established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) relating to food additives, veterinary drug and pesticide residues, contaminants, methods of analysis and sampling and guidelines of hygiene practice".


11. Following extensive consultation of the FAO membership, the final text of the Code was adopted by the FAO Conference in 31 October 1995, by consensus. The Code is voluntary, but as it says in its introductory section "States and all those involved in fisheries are encouraged to apply the Code and give effect to it". The main provision related to post-harvest aspects and trade are the General Principles 6.7 and 6.14 and Article 11.

12. In 1999 the FAO Committee on Fisheries adopted International Plan of Action for

An International Plan of Action on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU) was adopted in 2001. These instruments can be seen as extensions of the Code.


13. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora requires regulation of international trade by means of export and import permits for species (or products therefrom) identified in Appendix II of the convention. Trade in species listed in Appendix I is prohibited. Species or products which are or could be important for international trade are whales, sturgeons (caviar) and some plants and molluscs which are of interest for the aquarium trade.


14. Other internationally-recognised standards setting bodies are the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the Office Internationale des Epizooties (OIE). ISO established the ISO 9000 scheme on quality requirements for business to business dealings and the ISO 14000 on environmental management of business. The mandate of OIE falls within the preparation of standards for animal health, such as the international animal health code and the international aquatic animal health code.


15. In addition to the above mentioned global instruments are others which are only regional in nature. States have been creating various Regional Economic Organizations (REOs) to foster peace and prosperity in given areas through market and eventually economic integration. Among REOs, the European Union (EU) did reach a high degree of economic and even political integration. Other regional economic organizations do have a certain impact on trade in fish and fishery products include organizations such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast-Asian Nations), CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), MERCOSUR (the Southern Cone Common Market), the Andean Community and ALADI (the Latin American Integration Association). Among the regional bodies not pursuing any economic or political integration, Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) do have a certain impact on trade in fish and fishery products. On the basis of scientific evidence they recommend measures aimed at maintaining the natural resources under their mandate at levels allowing maximum sustainable catch in the areas under mandate.


16. The regulatory framework governing trade is the result of negotiations and as such it reflects the specific interest and relative bargaining power of the participants in the negotiations. However, not all of those affected by the framework have had the possibility of mitigating negative impact on their business, on their country's or industry's trade position and competitive power. Once a negotiation has been closed, the document signed and implementation started, there is usually not much that can be done to avoid negative consequences. Technical assistance for coping with new rules may be a second best solution but it would be preferable to be prepared well enough before the rules enter into force.

17. The New Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations is very likely to modify the regulatory framework governing international fish trade. Unfortunately, it is not possible to specify likely changes at this stage, because no pertinent information is available at the time of writing (mid January 2002). Nevertheless, it is obvious that those who expect their business operations to be affected by any such new rules should keep informed and establish communications with the negotiators. National delegations of negotiators will include fisheries or fish trade experts only in exceptional cases; therefore, efforts should be made to brief delegations on any relevant fish trade related issues which may lead to positive outcomes of the negotiations and/or avoid concessions harmful for fisheries whenever a compromise needs to be found at the negotiating table.

18. In order to satisfy some of the information requirements of the public and private sector with regard to the international, regional and national rules governing international trade in fishery products, FAO's Fish Utilization and Marketing Service has initiated the development of a website ( The amount of online information on policies affecting trade in fishery products is vast and often dispersed among dozens of web sites. There is a great need by the fishery industry and other interested users to have facilitated internet access to such information and this web site is aimed at responding to this need. It hosts a portal gathering hyperlinks to the relevant web pages of institutions shaping the regulatory framework on trade in fishery products. Links within the portal are ordered by general policy framework, geographic area, institution and policy of the institution. The site does not cover:

19. It is hoped that the website on the Regulatory Framework governing International Fish Trade will pass the test of usefulness and that its validity can be further enhanced in response to substantive negative or positive suggestions.