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John Kurien
Chief Consultant, Centre for Development Studies
Trivandrum, India


We live in an increasingly globalizing world. Our interdependence as nations and peoples is on the rise. A significant expression of this can be found in the enhanced trade in goods and services between nations and other entities. The varied impact of trade, at the macro-level on the countries involved and at the micro-level on the people, has become a matter of global concern and analysis. The formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has brought a more formalized structure to international trade. The earlier held conviction that trade will bring an increase in the welfare of all the parties involved is being questioned today. Yet, striving to understand the modus operandi of international trade and helping to create the right circumstances, institutions and mechanisms, to facilitate ‘development-enhancing’ trade, is a challenge that the global community must take upon itself seriously. Etching the structure for sustainable trade at the global level is a daunting task, but it can be done if studies pertaining to particular products are commissioned with an eye to understanding the consequences of trade - who and what make the gains and losses, where and when do they accrue. Since fish is one of the largest internationally traded primary commodities, it merits close attention.

Food security is also a matter of global concern. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. In a globalized world, the attempt to link countries with a surplus of food to countries where food is in deficit, through the aegis of trade is one important way to contribute to greater global food security. When viewed globally, the contribution of fish to food security is not large. However, in the regions of the globe where vast numbers of people are food insecure, fish is a significant part of the culturally accepted diet. Fish can therefore make a significant contribution to alleviate malnutrition and enhance food security directly. The activity of fishing and the related activities of processing and distribution also generate considerable employment and income in developing countries. If fish trade results in raising the employment and income, it can further contribute indirectly to food security of the people involved in these activities.


Against this backdrop the FAO/MFA (Norway) initiative, which is to be undertaken in 2003, may be seen as a modest attempt to examine whether the international trade in fishery products can contribute directly and indirectly to food security in the developing countries.

The general objective of the project, as contained in the Terms of Reference document that was agreed upon by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway can be summed up in the following manner: The general objective of the study will be to analyse the positive and/or negative impact of international fish trade on food security, including food fish availability and accessibility, employment, distribution of benefits, hard currency earnings and the impact on the resources and the aquatic environment. The various impacts of the international trade in fishery products should also be analysed with reference to how men and women may be affected differently.

To achieve this objective, the strategy proposed has been to examine the issue both from a global-macro perspective and simultaneously from a local-micro perspective. The latter is to be achieved by undertaking case studies in several countries that will assess the impact of fish trade - export and import - by considering five “categories” as the subject of analysis.


International trade in fishery products increased substantially since the mid 1980s. The total value of exports was valued at US$ 20 billion in 1984. It rose sharply to US$ 55 billion in 2000. Enhanced demand in the developed countries, cheaper methods of preservation and transportation, were probably the main reasons for this increase. However, increases in production, the introduction of the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones and lower tariffs also contributed to this development. The trade was largely between developed countries or from developing countries to the developed countries. About half the exports in value terms are from the developing countries. It is noteworthy that as much as 20 percent of the export value originates from the Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDC).

This study seeks to undertake such an analysis of this growing international trade in fishery products. International trade in fishery products does not have any standardized pattern. It is marked by diversity. Diversity of the products traded, the countries involved, the people participating in the production, processing and trade, and of the end consumption patterns and the consumers. Also, unlike other primary products, international fish trade is not concentrated in the hands of a few firms. Assessing the impact of trade will hence require studying a variety of identifiable “representative” cases from the overall global context. In this study the cases will primarily cover the developing countries that export fishery products from the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and Latin America. For completeness of the analysis, the case studies will examine the impact of this trade in the importing countries too - both developed and developing.

The focus of the study will be on the impact that trade has on people’s food security - the physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times. To achieve this, the case studies will examine both the positive and negative impact that international trade has on: fish availability and accessibility; employment and income generation; the environment and the potential for hard currency earnings. All of these aspects have a direct or indirect bearing on food security. The people whom these studies will focus on include fish producers, fish workers and fish consumers in the exporting and importing countries. The studies will also examine the consequence of the export and import of fishery products on the fish stocks in the respective countries. To facilitate a better understanding of the process whereby international trade makes an impact on food security, a schematic diagram exploring the linkages is given in Diagram 1.


There are several opinions and propositions about the impact of fish trade on food security. The studies will examine many of them. Some of the most important ones include the following:

The mosaic of case studies that will selectively attempt to address some of the above propositions will be capped with a substantial analysis of the global trends in international trade in fishery products using information from the FAO, the GLOBEFISH database, UNCTAD and other international and national sources. The modest aim of the overall study will be to provide the basis for policy formulation in different country contexts to help maximize the gains and minimize the losses of international fishery trade to nations, fish producers, fish workers, fish consumers and fish stocks keeping the overarching concern of food security as a backdrop.


The study, which will be conducted and completed in 2003, is organised in a manner that will draw on the expertise of several internationally reputed experts in the realm of trade, fisheries and food security issues. The executing agency is the FAO/UN with its vast technical expertise on all the above aspects. Within the FAO it is the Fish Utilisation and Marketing Services (FIIU) of the Fisheries Department, which takes the responsibility for the overall conduct of the study. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Royal Norwegian Government that will follow the study closely and comment on its progress will ably assist them.

An International Reference Group (IRG) composed of a distinguished set of international experts and academicians who, in their personal capacity, will give overall guidance to the study from the perspective of achieving its goal of influencing trade policy formulation and suggesting strategies for food security-enhancing trade. The details of the study process will be overseen by an Expert Group (EG) composed of persons with first-hand knowledge of fish trade and food security issues, who in their personal capacity, assist in the choice of case study centres and meet occasionally to review work progress. The day-to-day monitoring of the study will be undertaken by a Chief Consultant (CC) responsible to the FAO, the MFA and will play the key role in liaising with the IRG and EG.

The case studies will be undertaken by National Consultants who will be identified by the EG based on suggestions from the IRG and the numerous contacts which FAO has all over the world. The countries where case studies will be undertaken include:

Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam

Diagram 1: Schematic diagram showing how international trade in fishery products relates to the fish categories mentioned and the manner in which this reduces or enhances food security

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