WTO Public Forum - FAO side event

Statement by Mr. Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary General

WTO Public Forum - FAO side event

28 September 2016


Making fisheries trade more inclusive: a unique pattern for supplying the world's most traded animal protein to global markets



Ladies and Gentlemen,

The clock is ticking.

We know it. But this is not enough to stop the man-made tragedy of the seas: the overexploitation of fish stocks.

The tragedy may seem invisible to some because it happens away from them, in the shores or far away in the high seas. But its consequences can hit hard hundreds of millions of people, not only today, but also tomorrow.

Fish is invaluable for food security, consumption, export and income generation, and it is key to livelihoods of coastal populations.

Today, over 3 billion people rely on the oceans and seas and their resources - especially fish-for their livelihoods. Nearly 60 million people are involved in fisheries and aquaculture. About 97% of the world's fishermen live in developing countries and fishing is a major source of income to them.

The tragedy of the seas is, in many ways, a litmus test of our ambitions for a better world by 2030. One of them is our pledge that no man, no women, no child should live with the agonizing feeling of an empty stomach. Today, nearly 800 million people live with this feeling. Zero hunger is the goal and fish is an important means to it.

But fish is also one of the most traded commodities worldwide, making it essential for development of many coastal developing countries and Small Islands Development States.

Exports of fish and seafood products reached a record value of 146 billion US$ in 2014 - this is a more than a tenfold growth in 10 years. World fish trade grew from 15 million tonnes in 1991 to 45 million tonnes in 2014. In 2013, developing countries accounted for 56% of total fish exports.

And we know trade in fish will only grow more in response to the increased demand by a growing population.

Fish is not an inexhaustible resource. And the problem is that today close to 90 percent of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. We have reached the limits of perhaps one of the last natural harvesting human activities on the planet.

Yet, governments gave out - according to some estimates - 35 billion in fisheries subsidies, of which 20 billion directly contributed to overfishing.

Subsidies to support the extraction of an already depleted resource make no economic, environmental or social sense: Subsidies affect the food security and livelihoods prospects of the more vulnerable coastal communities; subsidies benefit industrial fleets or even in some cases illegal activities, at the expense of taxpayers; and, subsidies expand inequality, fueling an unfair competition among strong and weak actors.

We are running a senseless race to the bottom where very soon, we will all be the losers. The time for such shortsighted policies should now be over.

We, the trade community, have a responsibility to make trade in fisheries more inclusive, more sustainable.

Only by seriously tackling the tragedy of the seas can we ensure that fish and fisheries continue to play their role in economic development, especially for developing countries.

To this end, I think there are three actions we have to take.

  1. We must collectively address subsidies, particularly harmful subsidies

  2. We must support developing countries to build effective fish management systems

  3. We must minimize tariff escalation and other Non-tariff measures

Let me turn to my first point, addressing fishery subsidies.

We need new impetus and new approaches to mobilize international action around SDG 14. In July, UNCTAD, FAO and UNEP joined forces in Nairobi at the UNCTAD 14 Conference and proposed a four set of actions:

  1. Require countries to provide information on the subsidies they provide;

  2. Prohibit subsidies which contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing and hinder food security and livelihoods;

  3. Introduce new policy tools to deter the introduction of new harmful subsidies;

  4. Provide special and differential treatment to developing countries.

The joint statement was supported by more than 90 Members States, four International and regional organizations and more than 10 global NGOs.

If these actions are taken by Member States, a more effective delivery of WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies could be reached at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017. Estimates indicate that reducing harmful fisheries subsidies alone could result in economic gains of as much as USD 50 billion worldwide.

However, and this takes me to my second point, compliance to international rules and standards will not be sufficient. Many developing countries need support through adequate capacity building and technical assistance to introduce effective fish management systems and monitoring and verification policies.

In fact, the considerable resources freed with the prohibition of harmful fisheries subsidies could be devolved to a Blue Development Fund. This fund would help supporting bluer economies, especially in Small Islands Development States and Least Developed Countries.

Finally, we must not forget the need to address tariff, tariff escalation and Non-Tariff Measures hampering inclusive development prospects in fisheries.

Take just one illustrative example: there are still many duties, sometimes tariff peaks, applied to fish imports worldwide, despite booming demand. But if an importing country's own fishing fleet - under national flag - is fishing in the territorial waters of another nation, this fish imports suddenly is duty-free. It is considered as same origin as the fish in the territorial waters of the importing nation. I know of no other trade area where it is the nationality of the company, or individual boat in this case - rather than the origin of the product - that determines the trade policies applied. So a Liberian fish is miraculously considered, say, European if fished by a Spanish boat outside the coast of Monrovia. Whereas the very same fish would be subject to duties, if a Liberian boat fished it. We need to deepen our understanding the ramifications of those and other measures and focus our research where there are specific trade concerns. In UNCTAD, we are willing to work jointly with FAO and WTO to close this knowledge gap.

Dear friends,

The clock is ticking. We have no luxury of time. We must turn this tragedy of the commons into a triumph of the commons. With concrete and strong actions, not least here in WTO, and with strong institutions nationally and regionally, we can stop the depletion of fish. Only then can we turn fisheries trade into a lever for sustainable and inclusive development.

Thank you very much.