5 October 2021
FAO Session Calls for Predictable Rules, Cooperation on Fisheries
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Participants heard examples from the private sector of how the fisheries and aquaculture sectors have adapted to the challenges posed by climate change and COVID-19.

Panelists noted benefits of binding disciplines on fisheries subsidies, and highlighted the importance of cooperation at the international, regional, and national levels.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) convened an event to explore linkages between fisheries and aquaculture production and trade, with a particular emphasis on sustainable and resilient value chains. It also highlighted the importance of new World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on fisheries subsidies to ensure sustainability of common resources and to strengthen the multilateral trading system (MTS).

The session took place on 30 September 2021 as part of the WTO’s 2021 Public Forum.

Marcio Castro de Souza, FAO, moderated the event. He introduced the topic by highlighting that fish is currently the most traded animal protein worldwide, with production organized around complex and highly integrated value chains. The fisheries and aquaculture sectors, he noted, have expanded significantly in recent decades, particularly in developing countries, but have also faced significant challenges in adapting to different crises.

Two private companies involved in aquaculture and wild marine captures in both developed and developing countries provided examples. Citlali Gómez, Neminatura, shared her company’s experience in producing trout through aquaculture in Mexico. She highlighted the challenges encountered as a result of climate change and of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on labor availability, value chains, and markets. Among responses, she mentioned moving from food services to the retail market, exploring new sales opportunities at the local, regional, and national level, and developing activities in the tourism sector.

John Keeler, Blue Star Foods, compared his company’s experience in small-scale artisanal fisheries in Southeast Asia with its operations in the aquaculture sector in Canada. He explained that the marine fisheries sector is “deeply” affected both by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of climate change, and described some of the strategies developed by fishermen to adapt, such as by reducing activities or through cash flow and financing programmes developed through cooperatives. In contrast, land-based aquaculture systems are less affected by external factors and are better equipped to deal with disruption in supply chains, Keeler said. He also noted Canada’s government’s financial support to land-based systems throughout the pandemic. Building on those two separate examples, Keeler called for further strengthening of existing supply chain to endure future crises with a focus on sustainability, livelihoods, and food security. He also highlighted the need to explore multiple sales channels to build resilience.

Thais Valerio de Mesquita, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazil, provided an assessment of impacts of future WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies. She argued that even in the absence of a final agreement, the last 20 years of negotiations in the WTO have already had significant impacts, resulting in increased awareness of the problems associated with some forms of support and the benefits resulting from other such forms. Valerio de Mesquita noted that the importance of fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and of reforming harmful subsidies is now recognized at the highest political level. New regional trade agreements (RTAs), she said, include disciplines on fisheries subsidies, as illustrated by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), while national governments have realized the importance of reforming existing fisheries subsidy regimes, as evidenced by the reform of the EU’s common fisheries policy. She further pointed to increased awareness among the private sector on the need to invest in sustainable practices and among consumers who are now demanding more sustainable products.

Valerio de Mesquita said a future WTO agreement would anchor this evolution in the sector, ensure synergies among different regimes, and increase coherence in international governance. In combining binding disciplines “with teeth” and a system of checks and balances, such an agreement would also ensure that the rules are not set by the market or the big players but through consensus among members.

On the importance of cooperation, James Brown, Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand, pointed to the fact that the fisheries sector is highly globalized, not only from a trade, investment, and labor perspective, but also because fish and vessels are moving across jurisdictions. He said cooperation features strongly in the law of the sea and a range of specific instruments such as the UN Fish Stock Agreement or the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. He also highlighted the need for cooperation to address a wide range of environmental problems beyond fish, to combat IUU fishing, and to reform harmful fisheries subsidies.

Brown noted that the fishery and trade interface is increasingly addressed in the context of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), for example through catch documentation schemes, certifications, and market measures, but also through disciplines on services, including port services, financial services, and banking and insurance services in the context of the fight against IUU fishing. In RTAs, he said, disciplines not only address fisheries subsidies but also commitments to combat IUU fishing and  to enhance fisheries management.

He said cooperation is also critical in the implementation of market state measures seeking to prevent imports of IUU products to avoid unnecessary barriers to trade resulting from divergences in regulations. Brown concluded by citing positive examples of cooperation in the context of RFMOs despite the pandemic, in the WTO where negotiations continue with momentum, in the recent Group of 7 (G7) communiqué on oceans and fisheries, and in the context of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) Declaration for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture issued by ministers earlier this year. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [WTO Public Forum 2021]

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The WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) and SDG target 14.6 give members the task of securing an agreement on eliminating subsidies for IUU fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing by the end of 2020. WTO members committed to build on their 2020 progress and reach a resolution in 2021. MC 12 is scheduled to convene in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 November to 3 December 2021.

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