A Piece of the Fish Pie: Sharing the Benefits of Fisheries with LDCs and SIDS

09 June 2017

UNCTAD held a side event on "Enhancing trade opportunities for Least Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States through the fisheries sector", during the UN Ocean conference in New York.

From 1980 to 2013, world fishery exports of developing countries' increased from about 37% to slightly over 50%. However, this increase did not include Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In contrast, Least Developed Countries, including those LDCs which are also Small Island Developing States (SIDS), remained marginal, rising from 1.7% to 2.1% 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.

Many Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States have a huge potential in fishery resources, including aquaculture.

However, these countries are often unable to sustainably leverage the full potential of their natural wealth due to weak infrastructure in transport, energy, cold storage and a lack of skilled personnel, institutional and technical capacities.

Whilst speaking at an UNCTAD side event, "Enhancing trade opportunities for Least Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States through the fisheries sector", during the UN Ocean conference in New York, UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi said, "There are immense opportunities but we must simplify and harmonize the standards of international food safety and make the quality predictable enough to boost fishery exports from Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States".

While LDCs and SIDS enjoy improved market access conditions in developed country markets, non-tariff barriers remain the most pervasive hindrances to fishery exports of poorer countries and their exporters.

The fishery sector holds considerable potential for export competitiveness and diversification for LDCs and SIDS. UNCTAD research and analysis shows that there is considerable scope for many LDCs to join the group of successful exporters in fisheries, if they can overcome several obstacles.

Participants of the UNCTAD side event (both from the public and private sectors) reached a consensus on the following recommendations for action by all the stakeholders at the national, regional and global levels.

  • Major fish importing countries from LDCs and SIDS should step up their financial and technical assistance to help these countries build their institutional and human resources capacities to meet international safety and quality standards. Such supports are critically important to enable LDCs and SIDS to better utilize their fisheries resources for transformative change and sustainable development.

  • There is an urgent need to simplify and harmonize food safety and quality standards and realign the private and public standards' regimes to make theme consistent with internationally agreed standards. In this regard, developed countries and emerging countries of the South, which are major importers of fish from LDCs and SIDS, as well as private standard setting bodies have a special role to play in harmonizing and simplifying standards.

  • UNCTAD, with the support of trading and development partners as well as the private sector, should expand its praiseworthy activities to build supply capacities of LDCs and SIDS through training at selected "Centers of Excellence" in developing countries.

  • Governments of LDCs and SIDS should put in place policies and strategies that maximize economic, social and environmental benefits to their citizens with the view to balancing income and employment growth with environmental sustainability of the fishery sector. In the long-run, aquaculture can have economic, social and environmental benefits by contributing to export diversification, employment creation, food security and easing the burden of over-fishing on natural stock. LDCs and SIDS should endeavor to develop their aquaculture sub-sector in a sustainable way.

  • Transport and electric power infrastructure as well as cold storage facilities are sorely lacking in many LDCs and SIDS, pushing up costs and undermining export competitiveness. Public and private investments in basic infrastructure are required for the fishery with governments providing basic infrastructure and leaving development of specialized facilities such as cold storage to the private sector.

  • Government, donors and industrial fishing companies and other stakeholders must work together to upgrade fishing-specific infrastructure such as landing sites and the cold chain. The adequacy of landing sites affects the ability to satisfy sanitary norms. Inadequate cold storage facilities constrain exports and processing operations, while poor quality and high cost of electricity in turn discourages investment in cold storage facilities.

  • Both industrial and artisanal fishing contribute to depletion of fish stocks but management of the two has commonalities and differences. It is essential to have better knowledge of the state of fish stocks as the starting point. Monitoring fish stocks and surveillance of fishing require resources and capacities that most LDCs and SIDS lack, undermining efforts to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Increased financial and technical assistance by Donors and the private sector can play an essential role in addressing the challenges.

  • A number of LDCs and SIDS receive foreign exchange earnings by leasing out fishing rights in exchange for fees and technical assistance. The drawbacks are that the fish are often not processed locally and monitoring of compliance on fishing limits is difficult. Agreements with foreign fleets should be carefully negotiated to ensure that the home country receives adequate benefits.

  • Donors, NGOs and governments of LDCs and SIDS should ensure that fishing agreements with developed country fishing fleets are transparent include fair fishing fees, and provisions for capacity building for local governments and fishers. The fish license agreements should reflect or take into account prevailing market value of the fish captured. It is important to build the human, institutional and regulatory capacities of LDCs and SIDS to negotiate, implement and monitor fishing agreements.

  • Trading and development partners of LDCs and SIDS should take concrete actions to discipline production and export distorting fishery subsidies as well as subsidies that contribute to overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, while ensuring exemption of LDCs and SIDS from any reduction commitments that are not consistent with the level of their socio-economic development. There is a need to harmonize international food standards including between private and public ones and realigning them with internationally agreed standards.

UNCTAD is committed providing technical support to Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to unlock the vast socio-economic potential that fisheries offer.