Improving SPS Systems in Regional Fisheries will Yield Substantial Economic Returns

Strengthening SPS capacity in the fisheries sector is one of the three main areas of focus of the 11th EDF SPS Project. Mr Milton Haughton, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), provided some insight on the CARIFORUM fisheries sector and explained why SPS is so important.

Importance of the SPS Project to the fisheries sector

In the recent decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the trade of fish and fishery products, so that it now constitutes the most highly traded food commodity internationally. According to the FAO, the value has risen from US$15 billion per annum in the 1980s to US$164 billion in 2018. In CARIFORUM countries, the export of these products is currently valued at between US$300 million and US$400 million per year.

Given the importance of fish and fishery products in international trade, it is not surprising that they have attracted increasing attention with respect to sanitary and phytosanitary measures. While there is enough demand in the market, many exporters in the region are not able to export to major markets in the EU, United States of America, Canada, and Japan because of the SPS measures that these countries have put in place. The requirements that govern trade in these commodities have become increasingly stringent and complex with respect to food safety, quality assurance and consumer protection. This has resulted in the development of fish inspection standards, regulations and schemes for the implementation of SPS-based systems in conformity with international best practices and standards based on the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius Commission as well as the World Trade Organization (WTO) SPS Measures Agreement.

The large compliance costs associated with meeting these SPS standards presents a challenge for small countries and economies. It is also very difficult to meet these requirements, which are constantly changing and becoming more and more onerous over time. However, achieving compliance with the international standards established by trading partners, means that CARIFORUM States can increase exports and received higher prices for their products; reaping enormous financial and economic benefits as a result. So, SPS challenges and requirements faced in exporting our fish and fishery products are a major issue and a considerable challenge for our countries. This has to be addressed if we are going to realise the full potential of the fishery sector. This is the reason why this 11th SPS Project is so important to us at this time.

The Project will help us to develop national and regional harmonized SPS systems to gain improved market access to the EU, as well as the other major markets, and support the beneficial integration of our countries into the world economy. It will also help us to boost intra-regional trade in fish and fishery products.

Major constraints impacting the trade of fish and fishery products

There are several constraints that must be systematically addressed in order to move forward. Foremost among these is that consumers have become more health conscious regarding food, in general, and seafood in particular. Their demand for safe, high-quality fish and seafood is driving the need for stricter SPS measures.

The foundation for the SPS system rests on a sound legislative framework based on international standards and practice. However, most CARIFORUM countries have inadequate legislation to ensure proper monitoring, inspection, certification and traceability of fish and fishery product. Also lacking is competent national and regional authorities responsible for the application and management of the SPS measures and systems and the absence of supporting laboratory infrastructure.

The knowledge and understanding of applying SPS systems must be extended to the private sector, which plays a key part in fish harvesting, processing, marketing and trade. Many of our fishing enterprises are small scale operations; some are family-owned businesses. This adds an increased level of complexity to getting these small operators to understand and adhere to the requirements.

Another major area of constraint is attaining coordination among the various entities and organizations responsible for SPS systems so as to ensure coherency, efficiency and effectiveness in delivering SPS services both at the national and regional level.

Contribution of the SPS Project to alleviate the constraints

The 11th EDF SPS Project is not starting from scratch but building on the investment and the foundation of significant work that has been done under the 10th EDF. This current SPS Project aims to efficiently and effectively use the limited resources available to address identified constraints and to strengthen the implementation of legislation, regulations, protocols and guidelines. The Project will also improve the capacity of both private sector operators and government regulatory agencies and laboratories that are working on SPS matters. Additionally, activities will be aimed at improving regional coordination and cooperation among the relevant entities and institutions. This will reduce duplication conflicts and the overall inefficient use of the limited resources, both in terms of expertise as well as institutional capacities for testing.

Factors to sustain the impact of the 1th EDF SPS Project

The key to sustaining the impact of the SPS Project is mainstreaming the initiatives into the priorities, policies and strategies of the work programmes of existing regional and national institutions, as well as in the private sector enterprises. A project like this one will be successful if, after the project has ended, we are a little more self-reliant in addressing the issues and challenges that face us.

Regional organizations like the CRFM, the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) and the national organizations should take on projects, such as the 11th EDF SPS Project, as an initiative that is part of ongoing operations, so that when the support comes to an end, they have built their human and institutional capacity and can continue with their own resources.

Building general awareness and publicizing the benefits of improved SPS compliance is very important and will help to secure commitment from the private sector. The tangible benefits that can accrue are tremendous and need to be publicized, specifically the increased incomes of companies that are able to export because they are complying with good SPS standards and requirements and can therefore access export markets and get premium prices for their products.

Simply by focusing on SPS, having good quality control systems in place, and ensuring the safety of their products, countries have been able to access prime markets and get some of the best prices for their products. This is without increasing the volume of exports. Just by moving up the value chain, a significant improvement in income can be realized.

The Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFFP), the CRFM Strategic Plan and other important policy instruments all identify SPS issues and the promotion of trade as important priorities. This is very helpful in achieving the long-term sustainability of the intervention by supporting the overall improvement of the SPS system and generating greater awareness and public confidence in the value of our system; new markets will open up to us and that will be a major factor in improving the contribution of fisheries to economic development in the region.