The declining state of the world’s oceans and the fisheries they support has been an item on the global agenda for many decades. Efforts to improve cooperation at regional and international levels have, however, failed to deliver effective results to improve the health of the oceans and their ecosystems. National and regional fisheries management schemes are frequently politicised and poorly enforced. The economics of the fishing industry continue to be distorted by subsidies that incentivise overfishing and over-capacity. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing undermines both sustainability efforts and government revenue streams. Broader issues related to the health of the world’s oceans, including ocean acidification and the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems will also require considered and cooperative policy responses from the international community.
Fish and fishery products are heavily traded commodities. The E15 Expert Group on Oceans, Fisheries and the Trade System examined the challenges and opportunities presented by trade and trade policies that might affect the state of the world’s oceans and fisheries; assessed the adequacy of the current global trade system in promoting healthier oceans and fisheries; and proposed options for how the global trade system could support a transition towards healthier oceans and sustainable fisheries.
The group’s over-arching theme of discussion centred on ensuring that trade policy frameworks and trade policies were supportive of the environmental, social and economic aspects of oceans and fisheries, and responded to challenges including: the sustainability of natural resources, food security, livelihoods, employment, and rural development. Experts assessed options for making progress towards these objectives by reforming rules relating to policy tools like fisheries subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff measures. The group also examined the approaches governments could take through the global trade system to address issues such as: countering IUU fishing, and the growth of public and private sustainability standards. It also reviewed the complementary measures that might be needed to support these efforts, including the role of financial mechanisms such as Aid for Trade (AfT) in supporting adjustments towards more sustainable fisheries.