There may be no correlation between fish trade and poverty alleviation
An OECD working paper highlights how, historically, trends in fish trade have been seen as beneficial to the developing world. ‘Relying on those figures, a pro-fish trade narrative has emerged in the course of the 1990s, and an increasing number of national and international institutions are now promoting fish trade as a poverty-alleviation tool for developing countries’. This is also the option taken by DG Trade, which highlighted some months ago, in an EPA Flash news, how EPAs with African countries will promote international fish trade for the benefit of both parties. However, this does not seem to work for sub-Saharan Africa.
While developing countries as a whole are projected to continue to be net fish exporters, recent simulations have shown that in sub-Saharan Africa the current trade deficit (in quantity) is expected to deepen further and reach substantial negative figures by 2020. In this context, some have voiced concerns about the current strategy of promoting the export of high-value fish to developed countries’ markets, claiming that this approach may remove fish from African markets and consumers.
The OECD analysis shows that when data from sub-Saharan countries are considered at the macro-economic level, these concerns are not substantiated. But the same data does challenge the pro-fish trade narrative and reveals that no demonstrable relationship exists between fish trade and economic growth or poverty alleviation.
The authors argue that this is due to the poor ‘trickle-down mechanisms’ (or even the absence of them) that fail to redistribute the revenues generated by fish exports to the poorest segments of the population. The absence of correlation between fish trade and development obtains even for countries where fisheries generate an amount of revenues significant enough to potentially have an effect on the rest of the economy, as in the case of Senegal, where fish exports represents 60% of total agriculture exports. The paper concludes that ‘… trade revenues are dissipated before they have the chance to impact on any economic and/or human development indexes’.
‘Global change in African fish trade: engine of development or threat to local food security?’, OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers, No. 10, 2008