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WTO framework for international market access in fisheries and aquaculture

11 October 2014

Delegates from 11 countries participated in a joint workshop organised by FAO and Info-SAMAK, on a ‘WTO framework for international market access in fisheries and aquaculture’. An FAO presentation, made available with the report, looked at ‘Market measures in fish trade to promote sustainable fisheries’. It first considered reasons why seafood ecolabelling has been developing, which include:

  • growing public awareness and demand for sustainable seafood;
  • vertical integration along chain of custody, which facilitates documentation and labelling;
  • global retailer requirements for sustainable seafood, to attract consumers/expand market share;
  • increasing legal requirements of importing countries.

Four common factors have been identified in ecolabel markets (principally EU and US markets):

  • consumers in these countries are ‘environmentally aware’;
  • these countries have a high level of active urban populations;
  • supermarket chains (rather than traditional fish markets) dominate these countries’ seafood retail sector;
  • the consumption patterns are based on few seafood species, with a preference for processed seafood products that lend themselves to (eco)labelling.

To this end, the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative (GSSI) is presented. This initiative gathers more than 30 stakeholders (private seafood companies, NGOs and national government agencies such as GIZ); and FAO provides technical expertise and sits on its Steering Committee. The GSSI’s mission is “to deliver a common, consistent and global benchmarking tool for seafood certification; to raise consumer confidence in seafood; to promote sustainable fisheries practices, and to encourage improvement in seafood certification schemes.”

This global benchmarking tool is based on FAO certification guidelines and FAO evaluation frameworks (minimum criteria), ISO standards, etc. Pilot studies will be carried out on selected certification schemes in 2014. Expected release of the benchmarking tool is planned for 2015.

Editorial comment

If the WTO framework plays a major role in governing international fish trade, including EU–ACP fish trade, other issues such as the use of ecolabels (and related traceability requirements) on markets (e.g. the US and the EU) present both opportunities and obstacles to be addressed for fish exporting ACP countries. It would be advisable for interested ACP countries’ stakeholders to become part of the GSSI current initiative, so that their specific concerns are duly taken into account in the development of this global benchmarking tool for seafood ecolabels.


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