by Victor Menotti, Glen Spain and Zeke Grader
Once again secret deals are being cut in back rooms by corporate-dominated and little known international trade groups that will directly impact the lives of commercial fishermen and our industry for decades to come. In this account we will explain that threat and help guide you through the 'trade-speak' maze as well as tell you what you can do to see that fishermen's concerns are addressed. The outcome of this struggle really matters. What happens in this fight will directly affect your markets, your price and even whether you will still be able to go fishing in the future. In one way or another, the issue affects us all.
After failing famously in Seattle in November 1999, the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally succeeded in launching a new round of trade talks in November 2001. Two years following the "Battle in Seattle," trade ministers from 140 nations agreed to expand the WTO's scope over fisheries policies worldwide.
As recently signed in Doha, Qatar, world governments have now agreed to begin negotiations in key areas of fisheries policy, making these issues, which have traditionally been decided in local or national arenas, now an international trade agenda item. Everything from gear requirements to labeling requirements to fishermen's federal pensions could be impacted. Once again, fishing men and women, and the coastal communities they support, have been shoved out of the rule-making process and currently have no voice at the table (see the November, 1999 FN article "The World Trade Organization (WTO): Flying Under Fishermen's Radar," available on the Internet at: http://www.pcffa.org/fn-nov99.htm).
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) and the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fishworkers (WFF) are important voices for sustainable fisheries and for fishing-dependent peoples worldwide. Like small farmers, fishing communities everywhere are by necessity uniting globally to defend their rights and to protect their traditional livelihoods from potential WTO attack. Global trade rules currently reflect mainly the interests of large multinational businesses who certainly do not have the interests of commercial fishermen in mind. WTO rules now being proposed for the world's fisheries could also seriously restrict national governments' abilities to regulate their own fisheries, and prevent them from protecting those fisheries from rapacious multi-national corporations.
The WTO has been roundly criticized by countless popular movements as a threat to democracy and the public interest. By joining the WTO, our government restricts what its own citizens can do to sustain fisheries and fishing communities, as well as set limits on the behavior of large corporations. Thus fisheries policy-making is increasingly moving off-shore, to the arena of international trade negotiations between nations. As a result, nearly every national fishery management policy, tool or conservation program that might restrict corporate access to fisheries or seafood markets could, potentially, be classified to be a violation of the rules of global free trade.
MARKET ACCESS: The Global Free-Fishing Agreement
WTO bureaucrats and corporations already consider many of the policies that conserve fisheries (and the communities that depend on the resource) to be "barriers to free trade." Since conservation measures always imply some restrictions on harvest, the WTO's market access agenda could undermine sustainable fisheries and livelihoods by weakening legal protections that promote natural resource conservation and communities. The forestry, fishing, and farming sectors are particularly likely to be impacted. Ongoing WTO negotiations for wider market access are broken down into two general categories: 1) eliminating tariffs, and; 2) eliminating "Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs)".
1) Eliminating Tariffs
In Seattle, trade ministers were pushing to finalize a deal to eliminate tariffs (import taxes) between nations. Critics pointed out that tariff elimination could also expose small-scale fishing communities, whose survival depends on sustaining local fisheries, in a variety of ways. Lowering tariffs in the absence of adequate safeguards for marine ecosystems and for fishermen, for instance, could accelerate the death spiral of the world's fish stocks and fishing communities.
Although the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports increasingly dire news about dwindling worldwide stocks, no assessment has yet been done on the biological health impacts on fish stocks that are being prioritized for tariff elimination. Nor has anyone even consulted the fishing communities themselves about what issues they want addressed. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in the US has been unable to even obtain information on the status of these trade talks. Apparently the only ones who are kept aware of the WTO fisheries agenda are the very importers, processors, and distributors who are driving the "full market access" trade agenda via the WTO. Their goal is to be able to dominate local markets everywhere at the expense of local fishermen.
Forest tariffs were an issue of great concern to protesters in Seattle, as ministers had prepared to finalize a deal that week. However, forest conservationists succeeded in getting the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to publish its first-ever environmental assessment of trade liberalization, released just before the 1999 Ministerial Summit. In the report, which was done by a timber industry-funded group, trade officials buried the real findings: tariff reductions would result in increased logging in some of the world's most threatened old-growth forests inhabited by indigenous peoples or home for important salmon streams. Precipitous WTO tariff elimination could also undermine efforts to reduce wood, oil and other resource consumption, a priority identified by the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit.
The U.S. recently imposed a 29 percent tariff on the important of Canadian softwood lumber to protect against the dumping of Canadian government subsidized lumber on the U.S. market, putting many rural logging-dependent communities out of work. However, many countries are joining Canada to attack those tariffs within the WTO process. In addition to forest and fish products, tariff cuts are also being discussed for minerals, fuels, chemicals, and other "non-agricultural products." Without any clue as to the impacts of expanding trade in these controversial commodities, the WTO is potentially putting the planet's future at risk.
Cutting tariffs reduces prices for consumers, in turn stimulating consumption, especially in the rich nations where tariffs are highest. This could be disastrous for fisheries. In third world nations it creates pressures on government to export fish otherwise intended for local markets or simply sell quotas to foreign fleets to the detriment of local fishing fleets. In turn, these cheap imports hurt fishermen in the wealthy countries by driving their ex-vessel prices down and subjecting them to a type of third world poverty. Also, some of America's oldest fisheries conservation programs (like the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act) that are financed by tariff revenues could face difficulty in securing continued funding.
2) Eliminating Non Tariff Measures (NTMs)
The most dangerous thrust to fishermen of world trade agreements is the covert effort, by some countries who want to flood our markets, to include just about anything that might keep them out as a "non-tariff measure" or "NTM." In trade-speak, NTMs are considered to be any government measure, policy, or practice that has the effect of "distorting" trade. Obviously this definition is wide open to interpretation and abuse.
Proposed lists of fishing NTMs by some countries have included measures such as normal and biologically necessary harvesting restrictions, bans on destructive gear, precautionary measures against the import of species suspected of disease or illness, residency requirements ("fish here, live here" provisions), and even ecolabels. The Asia Pacific Economic Community (or APEC, which includes the U.S.) has already surveyed what it considers the various NTMs in Pacific Rim markets, with a view to using its list as a framework for negotiations on market access in the WTO. Governments have yet to make this NTM report public, however, as it could reveal a laundry list of important fisheries regulatory or conservation measures being targeted for elimination via WTO negotiations. Yet the United States Trade Representative (USTR) plans to also use this still-secret APEC laundry list as a "negotiating framework" for upcoming market access talks in Geneva.
In the forestry sector, the WTO official definition of NTMs already extends to measures that may have a "potential" to impact trade, such as labeling requirements. Although they admittedly have not yet had any impact on trade, eco-labels are also being closely observed under the WTO microscope.
WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), used to lecture "misguided conservationists" not to use trade measures to influence foreign fishing practices. Instead, GATT insisted, informing consumers through labeling would be a more efficient and effective method that would not impede trade. But now that such labeling systems exist, WTO is saying that labels informing consumers are themselves barriers to trade because they might discriminate against imports.
Recently, Alaskan fishermen requested Senator Frank Murkowski to sponsor legislation requiring seafood labeling. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (S. 1209) thus would require all U.S. fish and shellfish labels to inform consumers of country of origin, how the fish was harvested (wild or farmed), and whether the fish is a genetically modified organism (GMO). However, the WTO has already ruled (or indicated that it could rule) against onerous labeling measures targeted against exporting nations. While the WTO already has rules on labeling by country of origin for most goods, food (and fish) products are still exempt, thanks to intensive lobbying by global food companies.
As this article is being written, conferees are now busy negotiating the final versions of the Farm Bill in Congress. In the Senate version (S. 1731) is Senator Ted Stevens' (R-AK) similar language (requested by fishermen) that would also finally require seafood to be labeled by nation of origin and whether it is wild or farmed. This innocuous language is badly needed, but could nevertheless be determined by the WTO to be a non-tariff measure, and if so the U.S. would be required either to eliminate it or face trade sanctions and penalties.
The rising tide of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) that are hitting world markets are also of major concern to scientists and the general public. However, the WTO has already ruled that governments may not "discriminate" against imports based on how something was produced, for instance by traditional and sustainable versus industrial and destructive methods of production. Under this rubric, other nations' initiatives to label genetically-engineered species are already being threatened with WTO action.
Eco-labels, such as the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) program for sustainably harvested seafood products, are also directly threatened by WTO's new mandate given in Doha, including the recent certification by MSC of Alaskan salmon as a sustainable fishery. Trade ministers specified in the Doha Summit's final declaration that eco-labels would be closely observed and assessed for their impacts on trade. Some nations have already made clear their intentions to challenge eco-labels as discriminatory under the WTO's free trade rules. However you might feel about such labeling schemes, this attack, if successful, would also eliminate another type of eco-label most fishermen support, the labeling of wild versus farmed seafood products.
The WTO also restrains governments from taking precautionary measures to prevent the entry of invasive species and foreign diseases. Canada has already successfully challenged Tasmania's ban on salmon eggs, imposed because of possible entry of foreign salmon diseases with foreign eggs. The Sanitary & Phyto-Sanitary (or SPS) Agreement of the WTO does not recognize the precautionary principle at all when allowing governments to implement protections at the border. The burden of proof is thus always on the public to prove something is NOT safe, never on the industries to prove that it is.
U.S. Congressman Nick Rahal (D-WV) has proposed the Invasive Species & Coastal Protection Act (H.R. 3558) to set up a comprehensive national program to protect native fish and wildlife from the impacts of invasive species. In drafting such bills, however, lawmakers are discouraged from enacting any meaningfully precautionary measures, on the theory that such measures would impede global trade and thus could be slapped down by the WTO.
In short, the NTM elimination agenda has become the final push by major multi-national corporations to remove all national or regional governmental controls over natural resources like fisheries. If their full agenda is ultimately adopted, any nation's policies or regulations for the conservation of important biological resources, or for the protection of the communities that depend upon those resources, would become subservient to expanding global trade requirements.
In Seattle, the Clinton White House pledged to defended U.S. forest resource conservation measures in trade negotiations. Not only does the Bush White House need to follow through with that promise and extend that pledge to fisheries as well, but other governments need to take similar positions. Moreover, trade negotiators need to keep a "hands-off" approach to fisheries management policies, as it is not their area of expertise or competency. Such issues need to be resolved with clear mandates for conserving fragile natural systems and the livelihoods that depend on them.
ANTI-DUMPING: When Cheap Imports Kill
It is no secret that the international trading system is currently seeing a multitude of complaints about "dumping," which is the practice of exporting a product at a price lower than it can be produced in an effort to drive out competition and eventually monopolize the market. As global recession deepens, nations are intensifying their promotion of exports to keep their economies afloat. In reaction, importing nations are imposing tariffs and quotas (so-called "anti-dumping measures") to control the flood of cheap products that are driving domestic producers out of business. The Bush Administration, for example, recently imposed restrictions on steel imports into the U.S. to protect our own industry from dumping.
However, the WTO sets strict rules on what measures governments can take, and under what conditions, to stem the tide of damaging imports. The Doha Declaration set forth negotiations "aimed at clarifying and improving disciplines" under the WTO Agreements on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures, also known as the "Anti-Dumping Agreement." Although anti-dumping provisions were heavily pushed in Doha by developing nations who are frustrated with U.S. attempts to block imports from their countries of steel and textiles, small producers in many nations (especially the poorest) will be the ultimate victims of stronger WTO rules that prevent those nations from regulating the flood of cheap imports into their countries from elsewhere.
From fisheries to forestry to farming, millions of people around the world whose survival depends directly on accessing natural resources (for their own subsistence or for small-scale production) are now threatened by cheap imports. Yet compared to mass-produced, industrial, export-oriented production, many of these small-scale producers employ traditional management practices that distribute natural resources more equitably and are far more sustainable.
While loathed as "protectionist" by free traders, anti-dumping measures are also sometimes necessary for protecting the livelihoods of the poor or for maintaining sometimes more expensive but ecologically more sustainable practices. Though today's anti-dumping headlines focus on the conflicts in steel, textiles and Canadian timber, other commodities and natural resources are experiencing similar crises, including the widespread dumping of Chilean farmed salmon on U.S. markets.
From Sri Lanka to California, local fishing communities who have long practiced sustainable harvesting methods are threatened by cheap seafood imports. Sri Lankan fishermen can no longer sell their products since import barriers were lifted to allow industrial trawlers from other Asian nations to flood local markets. Salmon fishermen along the Pacific Coast of the U.S. cannot compete with below-cost imports of farmed salmon from Chile, where export aquaculture that damages coastal habitat and requires massive amount of antibiotics is also being fought by local artisanal fishermen, indigenous peoples, workers, and conservationists. These are but two examples of a worldwide problem.
The expansion of global trade and investment overseen by the WTO has created a crisis in rural communities everywhere. Fluctuating global commodity prices have destabilized local communities and made long-term planning for natural resource protections impossible. Trade rules need to give communities and nations the right to do whatever is necessary to protect sustainable resource management practices and the livelihoods those resources support.
SUBSIDIES: The WTO Swings Its Axe Again
One of the major fisheries problems covered in the Doha Summit was the problem of the world's badly overcapitalized fishing fleets, with several proposals for cutting national subsidies that maintain fleets too large for theavailable fish resource.
This item on the Doha agenda, which at first glance may appear innocuous if not helpful, could easily turn out to be a corporate Trojan horse. Embedded within it are hidden agendas of large corporations for capturing what is left of the planet's fisheries resources. While governments absolutely need to cut subsidies and reduce overcapacity in their fishing industry, the WTO is not the appropriate place to handle this problem. Letting a trade body, whose main constituents are global trading firms and not people tied to the land and sea, decide which subsidies are allowable almost ensures that what happened to small scale family farmers under the WTO's last round will now be repeated with the world's small scale family fishermen.
Beyond the WTO's well-documented history of cutting subsidies for the poor while further enriching the wealthy, the true WTO agenda for dealing with fisheries subsidies is revealed by who has been at the table in the discussion to date. Attempts by national networks of fishermen's organizations (including PCFFA) to get a seat at the negotiating table have been ignored, while the U.S. trade association of importers, processors, and distributors (the National Fisheries Institute) has long been an official advisor to U.S. trade negotiators. Some environmental organizations involved with the WTO seem to be playing into this strategy as well, despite being informed repeatedly of the concerns of small fishermen's organizations.
The Doha Summit text mentions the subject of fisheries subsidies under the section calling for the strengthening of the Agreements on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (Anti-Dumping). But the language contains no explicit conservation mandate, nor even an implied one. Indeed, its only specific directive is "taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries," which likely signals an orientation toward maximizing and industrializing the exports of fish products from poor countries, where, not coincidentally, some wealthy nations are increasingly investing in foreign fishing because they have over-fished their own territories.
It is still not clear how the WTO will be defining "fisheries subsidies." If past negotiations on farming subsidies are any guide, definitions can range as far as the largest multinationals can stretch them. With no clear conservation mandate, it is hard to say how the WTO's Doha Declaration will impact federally financed programs specifically intended to develop more selective/less destructive fisheries, or efforts to restore habitat, or for the buyback of excessive fleet capacity and permits (including through the Capital Construction Fund), to guarantee retirement accounts for fishermen, or to provide marketing assistance (such as Alaska, Oregon and California's seafood marketing commissions). If any of these important programs are deemed "fisheries subsidies" they could ultimately be declared violations of the WTO rules, exposing the U.S. to stiff sanctions.
INVESTMENT: Freeing Finance
The WTO's current rules apply mostly to international trade in goods and services. But the Doha Summit agenda would also expand the WTO's powers to cover foreign investment. If accepted and implemented by WTO member nations, citizens would lose enormous power to regulate foreign capital through their own governments, threatening fisheries resources in a number of ways. Around the world, many state and local governments grant commercial fishing licenses based on various criteria, such as fleet sizes, standards of gear, and residency requirements ("fish here, live here" policies). Trade negotiators (especially from nations with substantial long-distance fleets looking for new fishing grounds to exploit) view these kinds of measure as "discriminatory" against foreign investors and are trying to use the WTO process to prohibit all WTO member nations from using them.
Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) may also be seriously impacted by new WTO investment rules. The capital-rich nations, looking to "liberalize" markets for themselves, want to make it so that any time any member government privatizes a public entity (say, state-owned companies, social services or even concessions to exploit natural resources), they must do so only according to new WTO rules. Thus, conditions imposed on IFQ systems to protect fishermen and fishing communities could be threatened by WTO investment rules.
One of the other main principles pushed by the United States and the European Union is a ban on so-called "performance requirements." Performance requirements can be any government condition or standard placed on a foreign investor to ensure that local communities accrue at least some benefit from the foreign investment, as opposed to simply being economically sucked dry. When the U.S. Congress approved IFQs, for instance, a number of requirements were put in place, such as limits on ownership of quota shares by non-fishermen (i.e., corporations). These protective measures are precisely the kind that global corporations could challenge as "discriminatory" and as "unfair barriers to trade" under new WTO investment rules. If such WTO challenges were successful in overturning ownership limits, then IFQ programs would gradually become dominated by large foreign investment corporations, turning real commercial fishermen into a new variety of sharecropper.
The investment agenda's worst element, according to many critics, is the "Investor-State Mechanism," which already exists under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and which the U.S. would like to universalize via the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Agreement and through the WTO. By establishing new legal protections for foreign investors, this policy allows private corporations to sue a foreign government for enacting measures that reduce the planned profits of the foreign investor. Under NAFTA, for instance, a Canadian chemical manufacturer is now suing the U.S. government for projected profits lost because of California's recent legislative ban on the fuel-additive MTBE. Even though the state's fresh water supply is now being heavily contaminated by cancer-causing MTBE, and even though the cleanup of that pollution may now cost California billions of dollars, the foreign investor is demanding cash compensation from the U.S. government of nearly one billion dollars for losing its MTBE market because of the state ban on what is clearly a dangerous pollutant.
Allowing "regulatory takings" of this sort would make it impossible to protect our environment from whatever environmental assault some foreign investor figured to make money off of. Among other things, it might make dam removal, watershed restoration and limits on clearcut logging, all necessary for salmon restoration, nearly impossible, and then only at great cost to the taxpayer. The corporations and their investors, who make money fromdestroying those watersheds, would thus have to be paid "protection money" not to continue their destruction.
USURPING GLOBAL GOVERNANCE: WTO Takeover of the UN
On the global level, one of the Doha Summit's most stunning results was the mandate to negotiate "clarifications" between the WTO rules and the many trade measures that already enforce multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Under this process, the many existing UN treaties protecting migratory fisheries and global habitat could be institutionally subordinated to the rights of multi-national corporations established under WTO.
We may have already seen a smoking gun on this major policy change: The UN Straddling Stocks Agreement (a direct result of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio) established rules on how nations will collaborate to manage fisheries that migrate across national borders. In accordance with that Agreement, and at the request of traditional fishing communities in northern Chile, Spanish ships were blocked from landing their swordfish catch in Chile because they were depleting the spawning grounds for the species in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Docking only to transship onto ships serving the lucrative U.S. market, the Spanish government quickly got the European Union to threaten a WTO challenge against Chile's blocking of the transport of those goods through its waters. An "arrangement" was then negotiated under the WTO auspices that effectively reversed the ban imposed by Chile, letting Spain continue to transship its swordfish to U.S. markets while continuing to overfish the species, and forcing Chile's coastal fisheries communities to compete with capital and technology intensive Spanish vessels that are so intensively mining the fishery that it may soon biologically collapse.
The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has observer status in several WTO committees but seems to do little critical analysis of WTO policies. Indeed, FAO has a cooperative arrangement with the WTO to help national fisheries ministries implement the WTO's trade rules.
Such international environmental agreements, negotiated by treaty, need to be defended because they protect community rights to resources and natural resources. Examples of WTO efforts to undo them abound: efforts to regulate the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs ), such as Senator Murkowski's and Stevens' labeling efforts mentioned earlier, are fully allowed under the UN Biosafety Protocol, but could also be challenged as a barrier to trade by WTO rules. The Basel Convention on the Trade in Hazardous Waste could also be jeopardized by the WTO rules preventing measures that block imports, even the import of hazardous materials that may be unwelcome by the nation receiving it. Many other examples could be cited.
Over the next few years, WTO negotiations to clarify its relationship with the pre-existing MEAs could move very quickly. The best, if not the only, opportunity to counter the WTO's bid to usurp global environmental decision-making authority is at the August 2002 World Summit On Sustainable Development (Rio Plus Ten) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Representatives of fishing communities from many parts of the world will be there, as well as involved in the preparatory process, to defend sustainable fisheries and the communities that depend on them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Education and mobilization are key. The first step is developing a voice for sustainable fisheries and fishing communities that will be heard by our U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), Robert Zoellick. As an association of small and medium sized-producers in the fishing industry, PCFFA is applying for formal membership on the USTR's Industry Sector Advisory Committee that informs U.S. trade policy on fisheries matters. The only representative from the fishing industry currently on the ISAC is Richard Gutting of the National Fisheries Institute, the trade association for importers, processors, and distributors. Non-governmental organizations may also apply for "observer status" to the WTO process, which at least allows them to have non-participating representatives observe some parts of the otherwise closed meetings. Commercial fishermen's associations are strongly encouraged to apply.
Another important opportunity to intervene in the trade policy-making process is in the current debate over giving Fast Track Authority, a policy which sets the terms by which Congress may authorize the White House to sign new trade agreements. Although they've tried to rename it the "Trade Promotion Authority," President Bush's current proposal would do much the same as Clinton's two failed versions did: severely limit Congressional debate on future trade agreements. To transform the rules of the international economy, we need to start with a new national process for developing our own positions democratically, not have them crammed down our throats without debate by other nations.
In July of 2003, Mexico will host the next WTO Ministerial summit, possibly in Cabo San Lucas (the southern tip of Baja California). Fishing men and women everywhere must undertake a worldwide mobilization to influence the decisions slated for that meeting. In addition to projecting a voice for sustainable fisheries, PCFFA and IFR plan to inform people everywhere who care about conserving fisheries by publishing a comprehensive report on these issues, by developing informational material, and by organizing community forums to discuss the impacts of trade policies and what fishing dependent communities want out of the current trade talks. Contact IFR to get involved.
Victor Menotti is a consultant for the Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) Globalization and Sustainable Fisheries Program. Zeke Grader is the Executive Director of IFR as well as the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), the west coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families. Glen Spain is PCFFA's Northwest Regional Director. IFR's Southwest Regional Office and its Sustainable Fisheries Program can be reached at: PO Box 29196, San Francisco, CA 94129-0196, by phone to (415)561-3474, or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
reprinted from http://www.pcffa.org/fn-apr02.htm