UNCTAD holds an event themed on enhancing trade opportunities for least developing countries and small island developing states through the fisheries sector to address challenges imposed by international food standards.
"Oceans and their resources have a vast potential to unlock growth, wealth and support the implementation of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals," said Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary General, adding "the fisheries sector is a major source of income, employment and food security for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States".
Fishing accounts for a large percentage of economic activity in many Least Developed Countries, a UN category that contains those countries at the lowest levels of economic development. Small Island Developing States, some of which are also Least Developed Countries, is the category given to some island states that also have specific development challenges.
For example, in Comoros and Cambodia fisheries, both marine and inland, generates 15 per cent and 10 per cent of GDP respectively. Of the 16 top producers of inland waters fish in 2003-2012, 6 are least developed countries (Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo). Myanmar was also among the top 10 producers of marine fish during the same period.
In Uganda, fish is the second largest source of foreign currency after coffee. In 14 out of the 48 Least Developed Countries, fish exports are ranked in the top five merchandise exports.
The fisheries sector is not only a major source of income, but also of employment and food security. In Bangladesh, 15 million people are either directly or indirectly employed in the sector, in Cambodia approximately 6 million of that country's 16 million people work in the sector and some 100,000 of the 730,000 people in Comoros work in fisheries. In many Least Developed Countries, fish provides more than half of the animal protein consumed in people's diets.
Notwithstanding the economic value and poverty-reducing role of well-managed fisheries and related industries, the sector is often underdeveloped and poorly exploited in Least Developed Countries. From 1980 to 2014, Developing Countries' excluding Least Developed Countries, share of world fishery exports increased from about 37 percent to slightly over 50 percent in 2014.
In contrast, the share of Least Developed Countries remained marginal, rising from 1.7 percent to 2.1 per cent during the same period. This is despite the fact that these countries receive preferential market access in major fish importing countries, particularly in the European Union.
"We must urgently address ways and means for sustainably tapping fishery resources for the socio-economic development of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, including providing support for them to meet international food safety and quality standards for sustainable development", said Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary General.
Data from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency is suggestive of why this is such a challenge. While their membership contributes 40 per cent of the worldwide supply of tuna for canning, foreign vessels catch two thirds of this and only about 10 per cent is processed onshore in the region. Only a small percentage of the basic value, and an even smaller percentage of the value added elements, of fisheries are currently supporting local economies.
The reasons are complex. Within Least Developed Countries deficient transportation and storage facilities, poor energy infrastructure and high electricity cost, lack of investment, finance or credit to small operators, overfishing and depletion of fish resources, water pollution and a lack of common fishery policies among countries that share water resources are all consistent challenges that undermine the local industry. The weakness, or absence, of institutions and facilities for testing and certifying products throughout the value chain, particularly in compliance with importing country regulations is also a widespread barrier to entry into international fisheries markets.
However, despite supposedly welcoming international markets for Least Developed Country products, importing countries also raise significant barriers to fisheries products. Perhaps the most important are the stringent food quality and safety standards imposed by importing countries, which Least Developed Countries often find difficult to meet.
UNCTAD data on these "non-tariff measures" reveals that, on average, countries have twice as many measures, particularly sanitary regulations, for fish as for other products. These measures-both public and private-block access to major importing markets for many fish exporters from Least Developed Countries. While the stringency of regulations may sometimes be an issue, the procedures for meeting them are often a bigger one. This is mainly due to the fact that standards are not harmonized and are costly for Least Developed Countries to meet.
About 90% of those employed in fisheries value chains in Least Developed Countries are engaged in the small-scale sector. The complexity and diversity, and level of enforcement, of Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures and other technical barriers to trade in domestic and international markets may have dramatic effects that disproportionately impact the poorest, both globally and within countries. Small and artisanal fishers may see their export opportunities vanish and even their domestic markets marginalised. Chances to reach target 14.b of SDG 14 could thus be jeopardized.
The UNCTAD event will identify ways and means for sustainably tapping fishery resources for the socio-economic development of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. This will include coordinated and fair compliance with international food safety and quality standards. The potential to contribute to both poverty reduction and the sustainable management of marine resources is enormous.
The event will be held on the sidelines of the Oceans Conference of the United Nations in New York on 7 June 2017.