Trade-related aspects of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 at the centre of the 2017 UN High Level Oceans Conference Briefing in Geneva

19 January 2017

Convened by the Missions of Sweden to the WTO and the Mission of Fiji to the United Nations and supported by UNCTAD and UNDESA, more than 100 stakeholders attended the briefing, on Monday 16th January, to better understand the implications at stake and kick-start the preparations of the 2017 UN High Level Oceans Conference.

A high level panel of experts addressed various Stakeholders on the upcoming UN High-level Oceans Conference, which will take place at the UN headquarters in New York, between 5th -9th June 2017, coinciding with World Oceans Day, to support the implementation of SDG 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) by building on existing successful partnerships and promoting the consolidation of voluntary commitments.

Opening the briefing, the Swedish Ambassador Daniel Blockert noted that 2017 marked 45 years since the Conference on Development and Environment, adding that we were now living in a context where oceans and fisheries are more fragile than ever.

Ambassador Blockert emphasised that SDG 14 remains a priority as oceans sustain all life on earth. SDG 14 incorporates a series of ambitious trade targets related to fisheries management, fight against Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, ending harmful fish subsidies and facilitating access to resources and markets by small scale fishermen.

UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi, also added that seafood and fish are among the most traded commodities in the world and many services sectors are heavily dependent on oceans.

Dr. Kituyi emphasized on the urgency to protect the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. "Fish is traded three times more than other commodities such as cocoa, while at the same time is over exploited", added Dr. Kituyi.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about 30 % of all fish stocks are currently below sustainability levels.

"Trade in fish is being heavily affected by a series of factors including IUU fishing, unfair competition in the form of subsidies, and non-tariff measures", indicated Audun Lem, Deputy Director, Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy, FAO, adding that seeking options to address these challenges needs collective action as well as effective partnerships.

Efforts have been deployed under the last 40 years on the developed of a series of treaties and soft law under the UN such as the UNCLOS and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement or under FAO with their Code of Conduct on Sustainable Fisheries, the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing, and the recently entered into force Port State Measures Agreement.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been in a 15 year long and difficult process seeking to agree on disciplines in fish subsidies. According to the WTO Director of Rules, Johann Human, SDG 14.6 target is particularly important for the WTO as it mandates the development of disciplines to prohibit certain subsidies that overcapacity and overfishing and eliminate subsidies.

Furthermore, SDG 14.6 has been the inspiration and widely quoted in all recent and innovative proposals by WTO Members when seeking to find solutions on fish subsidies by the 11th WTO Ministerial, to be held in Buenos Aires, in December 2017.

During UNCTAD 14 in July 2016, FAO, UNEP and UNCTAD agreed and made a joint statement on the importance of regulating fish subsidies, as a milestone for reducing the gaps in positions and enabling consensus.

This statement also serves as a baseline for defining concrete partnerships and voluntary commitments on the matter at the 2017 UN High Level Oceans Conference.

The joint statement for the three UN organizations was also supported by partners such as the Commonwealth and the International Oceans Institute, whom underlined the importance of policy coherence with the UNCLOS framework and the need to also focus more on other trade related issues for small economies such as fair market access, value addition, and value chain integration.

During the same UN ocean conference briefing, UNCTAD's Trade and Environment Review 2016: Fish Trade, was launched as a substantive contribution on the road to the UN High Level Oceans Conference and to inform trade related discussions in Geneva.

UNCTAD's Director for International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities, Guillermo Valles highlighted the six key messages of the Review, as follows:

  1. Any future agreements on trade in fish must be based on the existing oceans legal framework including treaties (e.g. UN Fish Stocks Agreement) and soft law (e.g. FAO's Code of Sustainable Fisheries).

  2. Urgency to deliver relevant trade related aspects of SDG 14 by 2020 including targets, 14.4 and 14.6 and build linkages with other goals including SDGs 1, 2, 12, 13 and 17.

  3. Fish subsidies do not only pose an environmental challenge. They also contribute to distort trade and generate unfair competition between industrial fleets and small scale and artisanal fishermen and between developed and developing countries.

  4. Urgency to address the data gap on fish subsidies and incentives for transparency.

  5. Close collaboration between International organizations and countries for the mapping, convergence and harmonization of non-tariff measures applicable to fish and seafood products in order to facilitate access to markets and resources to small scale and artisanal fishermen in light of SDG 14b.

  6. Pay more attention to the voluntary sustainability standards for wild catch and cultivated (aquaculture) fish which are becoming increasingly important factors for securing market access as well as providing support for small actors and developing countries.

Mr. Valles also added that the links to competition and value chain integration are equally important, even though they are not directly mentioned by SDG 14.

The Ambassadors Nazhat Shameen Khan from Fiji and Ambassador Hector Cima from Argentina also took the floor and suggested the consideration of three equally important messages:

  1. The need to focus on special and differential treatment for developing countries, especially for SIDS and LDCs.

  2. The need to involve regional fisheries and other organizations in the delivery and monitoring of any outcome.

  3. The need for a concreate and enforceable outcome of fish subsidies at the WTO 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires.