Agricultural Trade Fact Sheet
Table of Contents



World production of fish currently stands at about 122 million tonnes. At 15.9 kg per caput. In 1997, the average global availability of fish as food was higher than ever. International trade of fish and fishery products reached US$52 billion in 1994-96, over three-times that in 1990-82 (Figure 1). For comparison, the value of agricultural trade (excluding fishery) only doubled in the corresponding period.

Fishery trade is particularly valuable for the developing countries. Their exports of fish and fishery products have been impressive - increasing by four-fold from 1980-82 to reach US$25 billion in 1994-96. As a result, the share of the developing countries in world trade of fish and fishery products has increased from 40 percent in 1980-82 to 50 percent in 1994-96. By contrast, their share in total value of world agricultural trade, excluding fishery products, did actually decline in this period (Figure 2).

Several issues of international significance have emerged in the area of world trade on fisheries and aquaculture. They are interrelated to a certain degree. For example, excess fishing capacity due to the widespread tendency for over-investment and over-fishing under open access has impacted on the sustainable use of world's fishery resources and the conservation of fishery habitats and bio-diversity. What follows is a brief account of these emerging issues and FAO's experience in these areas.

Figure 1: World trade in fish and fishery products

Figure 2: Developing country share in world fishery and agricultural exports


An International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity has been endorsed by the FAO Council in June 1999 following its approval by the FAO Committee of Fisheries (COFI). The plan is voluntary - countries that decide to implement it would first assess the capacity of their fishing fleets and then develop plans to manage this capacity in a sustainable way. The declaration issued by the Ministerial Meeting on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Rome, 10-11 March, 1999) also calls upon all concerned to collaborate for an effective and integrated monitoring of fisheries management. FAO's immediate work programme in this area include providing Members with tools needed for the management of fishing capacity. A number of workshops and training programmes are also being organized.


Public subsidies to the fisheries sector are substantial and have become a matter of concern in view of their negative effects on sustainable management of fishery resources and on comparative advantage on trade. FAO has been called upon both by the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade and the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity to compile and disseminate information on fishery subsidies at the global level, as a basis for further analysis aimed at identifying factors contributing to overcapacity. In this area, FAO's immediate programme of work includes:
  • performing a thorough and exhaustive review of the concepts of subsidies in fisheries and establishing a common technical baseline for discussion;
  • reviewing various forms of subsidies and their likely impact on fishery resources sustainability; and
  • reviewing various forms of subsidies and their likely impact on international trade of fish and fishery products.


    The 116th Session of the FAO Council recognised that FAO should continue its work in the area of eco-labelling. On this, contacts are being maintained with other agencies including WTO's Committee on Trade and Environment. An up-to-date review of various critical aspects of eco-labelling of fish and fishery products and an analysis of the rationale for international guidelines is being published in early 2000. A technical consultation is also being planned for 2000.


    At the FAO Ministerial Meeting on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, held in Rome during 10-11 March 1999, the Ministers and their representatives issued a declaration. In this, they declared inter alia that they will develop a global plan of action to deal effectively with all forms of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, including fishing vessels flying "flags of convenience", through co-ordinated efforts by States, FAO, regional fishery management bodies and other relevant international agencies. FAO is working towards the development of an International Plan of Action (IPOA) for the elimination of IUU fishing based on the following activities: (i) collecting and analyzing relevant data; (ii) holding an expert consultation; (iii) drafting the text for an IPOA; (iv) holding a technical consultation on the IPOA; and (v) submitting the IPOA to COFI for endorsement at its 2001 meeting.


    FAO has made contributions on technical and policy issues linked to GMOs in aquaculture at a number of international meetings and through publications. The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture will begin to address aquatic genetic resources and issues relating to GMOs in the near future. This will include analyses on several related areas, e.g. bio-technology, bio-safety, bio-ethics and agro-biodiversity.


    In June 1999 the FAO Council endorsed two International Plans of Action (IPOA) aiming to protect biodiversity. These IPOA's had been developed by FAO members and approved by the COFI in 1999. One aims to manage and conserve sharks, the other to reduce the by-catch of sea-birds in longline fisheries. FAO's activities in this area include the promotion of aquatic bio-diversity and collaboration with other organisations. Specific activities include:
  • a new project for the reduction of the environmental impact of the shrimp fisheries
  • participating in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) activities
  • preparing to provide support to the implementation of the IPOA for management and conservation of sharks and to the implementation of the IPOA for reducing the incidental catch of seabirds in long-line fisheries
  • review of criteria used for listing species in Appendices I and II of CITES as they apply to commercially exploited marine populations, with particular attention on fish populations.