A fish called de­vel­op­ment

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The just-adopted Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) are ex­pected to her­ald the start of a new era in global de­vel­op­ment, one that prom­ises to trans­form the world in the name of peo­ple, the planet, pros­per­ity, peace, and part­ner­ship. But there is an ocean of dif­fer­ence be­tween promis­ing and do­ing. And, while global dec­la­ra­tions are im­por­tant – they pri­ori­tise fi­nanc­ing and chan­nel po­lit­i­cal will – many of to­day’s pledges have been made be­fore.

In fact, whether the SDGs suc­ceed will de­pend to a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree on how they in­flu­ence other in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly the most com­plex and con­tentious ones. And an early test con­cerns a goal for which the Global Ocean Com­mis­sion ac­tively cam­paigned: to “con­serve and sus­tain­ably use the oceans, seas, and marine re­sources for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.”

When po­lit­i­cal lead­ers meet at the tenth WTO Min­is­te­rial Con­fer­ence in Nairobi in De­cem­ber, they will have an op­por­tu­nity to move to­ward meet­ing one of that goal’s most im­por­tant tar­gets: pro­hi­bi­tion of sub­si­dies that con­trib­ute to over­fish­ing and illegal, un­re­ported, and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing by no later than 2020.

This is not a new am­bi­tion; it has been on the WTO’s agenda for many years, and it has been in­cluded in other in­ter­na­tional sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment dec­la­ra­tions. But, even to­day, coun­tries spend $30 bln a year on fish­eries sub­si­dies, 60% of which di­rectly en­cour­ages un­sus­tain­able, de­struc­tive, or even illegal prac­tices. The re­sult­ing mar­ket dis­tor­tion is a ma­jor fac­tor be­hind the chronic mis­man­age­ment of the world’s fish­eries, which the World Bank cal­cu­lates to have cost the global econ­omy $83 bln in 2012.

In ad­di­tion to con­cerns about fi­nances and sus­tain­abil­ity, the is­sue raises ur­gent ques­tions about eq­uity and jus­tice. Rich economies (in par­tic­u­lar Ja­pan, the United States, France, and Spain), along with China and South Korea, ac­count for 70% of global fish­eries sub­si­dies. These trans­fers leave thou­sands of fish­ing-de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties strug­gling to com­pete with sub­sidised ri­vals and threaten the food se­cu­rity of mil­lions of peo­ple as in­dus­trial fleets from dis­tant lands de­plete their oceanic stocks.

West Africa, where fish­ing can be a mat­ter of life and death, is be­ing par­tic­u­larly hard hit. Since the 1990s, when for­eign ves­sels, pri­mar­ily from the EU and China, be­gan to fish on an in­dus­trial scale off its shores, it has be­come im­pos­si­ble for many lo­cal fish­ers to make a liv­ing or feed their fam­i­lies.

From 1994 to 2005, Sene­gal’s catch fell from 95,000 to 45,000 tons, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates, and the coun­try lost half of its fleet of tra­di­tional wooden pirogues. As the fish stocks col­lapsed in 2005, 5,000 peo­ple de­cided to put their re­dun­dant fish­ing boats to a dif­fer­ent use, by flee­ing to the Span­ish Ca­nary Is­lands. A year later, more than 30,000 oth­ers made the same per­ilous jour­ney, and an es­ti­mated 6,000 drowned. Sene­galese and Mau­ri­ta­nian fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies are also among the thou­sands of peo­ple risk­ing their lives to get to Europe to­day.

On the high seas, the dis­tor­tion is even larger. Ac­cord­ing to fish­eries econ­o­mists, sub­si­dies by some of the world’s rich­est coun­tries are the only rea­son large-scale in­dus­trial fish­ing in ar­eas be­yond coastal coun­tries’ 200-mile ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones is prof­itable. But fish do not re­spect in­ter­na­tional bound­aries, and it is es­ti­mated that 42% of the com­mer­cial fish be­ing caught travel be­tween coun­tries’ ex­clu­sive zones and the high seas. As a re­sult, in­dus­trial fish­ing far from shore un­der­mines de­vel­op­ing coun­tries’ coastal, mostly ar­ti­sanal, fish­eries.

Elim­i­nat­ing harm­ful fish­eries sub­si­dies by 2020 is not only cru­cial for con­serv­ing the ocean; it will also af­fect our abil­ity to meet other goals, such as our prom­ises to end hunger and achieve food se­cu­rity and to re­duce in­equal­ity within and among coun­tries.

The cred­i­bil­ity of both the WTO and the newly adopted SDGs will be on the line in Nairobi. The Global Ocean Com­mis­sion has put for­ward a clear three-step pro­gramme to elim­i­nate harm­ful fish­ing sub­si­dies. All that is needed is for gov­ern­ments fi­nally to agree to put an end to the in­jus­tice and waste that they cause.

For­tu­nately, there are en­cour­ag­ing signs. Nearly 60% of the WTO’s mem­ber­ship sup­ports con­trol­ling fish­eries sub­si­dies, with sup­port from the African, Caribbean, and Pa­cific Group of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries – to­gether with the EU’s con­tri­bu­tion to im­prove trans­parency and re­port­ing – giv­ing new mo­men­tum to the ef­fort. Among the ini­tia­tives be­ing put for­ward in ad­vance of the Nairobi meet­ing is the so-called “NZ +5 pro­posal.” Co-spon­sored by New Zealand, Ar­gentina, Ice­land, Nor­way, Peru, and Uruguay, the plan would elim­i­nate fish­eries sub­si­dies that af­fect over­fished stocks and con­trib­ute to illegal, un­re­ported, and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing.

The Global Ocean Com­mis­sion urges the re­main­ing 40% of the WTO’s mem­bers – and es­pe­cially the big­gest play­ers cur­rently block­ing this process – to ac­cept the rel­a­tively mod­est pro­pos­als on the ta­ble. A sus­tain­able fu­ture for our planet and its oceans de­pend on it.

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