APEC ministers call for new ocean partnership framework

5 September 2014

Ministers from the 21-economy Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) alliance meeting in Xiamen, China at the end of August outlined a new partnership framework that would establish closer regional collaboration around ocean-related challenges and policies.

The blue economy, including trade in both wild and farmed fish stocks, is a key sector for the APEC region that counts nine of the world’s top ten fishing nations in its ranks.

The Xiamen declaration sets out an integrated and sustainable joint oceans-strategy for APEC members with a particular focus on four  key priority areas. These include coastal and marine ecosystem conservation and disaster resilience, food security and food-related trade, marine science, technology and innovation, and the blue economy.

Key measures identified by the document include, among others, scaling up marine protected areas, collaboration on navigating the effects of climate change, tackling illegal fishing activities, and facilitating sustainable regional trade in fish and fisheries products.

Challenges ahead

The partnership announcement comes as a number of experts and environmental groups warn of the mounting damages suffered by ocean ecosystems across the blue planet.

Major worldwide marine challenges identified by the Global Ocean Commission – a panel of global high-level experts – include habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change, and ocean acidification caused by the uptake of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“We are facing many challenges, including damage of the marine coastal environment and depletion of fishing stocks,” said Liu Cigui, chair of last week’s oceans-related meet and administrator of China’s State Oceanic Administration.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), however, an estimated 71 percent of commercially valuable marine fish stocks are already fished at sustainable capacity levels, while a further 29 percent of world stocks are subject to over-fishing.

Despite this figure, demand for fish and fisheries products continues to climb worldwide and in the APEC region in particular. For example, the consumption of fishery products in the APEC region is 65 percent higher than the world average, FAO data shows.

“APEC’s 21 member economies are inextricably linked in a physical and economic sense by the Pacific Ocean,” said Dr Alan Bollard on Friday, APEC Secretariat Executive Director.

“Strengthening management of the oceans is a fundamental task that we face and one that we must advance together by taking advantage of these vital links between us,” Bollard continued.

In order to address these marine challenges the APEC’s Oceans and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) was formed in 2011 building on previous marine resources conservation and fisheries working groups in place since the 1990s. The group is committed to facilitate trade and investment opportunities surrounding the sustainable use of fisheries as well as to promote the conservation of marine ecosystems.

Ocean cooperation

The latest oceans partnership builds on previous declarations of political will made by APEC forum members on a number of these ocean-related challenges and, at the same time, affirms certain commitments made at the global level.

In the area of coastal and marine conservation for example, the declaration calls for further regional implementation of global efforts to ring fence at least 10 percent of the oceans as marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020, an international pledge made through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and strategic targets.

Elsewhere the declaration calls upon relevant APEC members to ratify an international instrument designed to tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing at landing point and thereby prevent illicit goods from entering the market.

Members of FAO signed the Port State Measures (PSM) Agreement in November 2009, a treaty that will enter into force 30 days after ratification by 25 parties. 11 had done so as of last month.

The document also calls for improved transparency and reporting of existing fisheries support programmes to the WTO, as well as the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies, and refrain introducing new ones. However, the renewed pledges are made without prejudice to the ongoing fisheries-related negotiations at the Geneva-based global trade arbiter.

Facilitating intra-regional trade in fish and fisheries products is also mentioned as a key part of supporting food security and achieving resilient, inclusive, and sustainable growth.

Economic reform and growth is itself one of the key priorities of the APEC forum this year.

Encouraging small-scale fishers and aquaculture farmers in this sector, particularly in relation to providing access to markets, is also cited as an important policy objective. Artisanal fisheries in APEC economies employ up to 24.2 million people – equal to 90 percent of the total employment in the fisheries sector – and in many cases constituting a crucial source of income for people living in remote and rural locations.

In a sign of the importance of providing access to marine resources and markets for small-scale operations, the challenge is also included as a target under the sustainable oceans goal in the proposed sustainable development goals released in mid-July.

The August APEC oceans-related ministerial meeting was one of nine to be held in China before a Beijing gathering of APEC leaders in November. The new partnership framework will be forwarded for consideration at this event.  

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