The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) is one agency from CRFM member states that helps to ensure SPS compliance for fisheries exports from Belize. Photo: BAHA
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CRFM)—The fisheries industry on Wednesday moved one step closer to making the Caribbean fish and seafood trade safer and more profitable when experts met in Barbados to finalise a raft of model regional laws, policies and procedures.
The Caribbean region’s ability to cash in on a potentially lucrative, international export trade in fish and seafood – already worth US$315 million a year – is being held back by gaps in sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) said.
But the experts, who are wrapping up an 18-month-long project to investigate fish handling policies and design a new seafood safety regime for the region’s fish and fishery products, are set to introduce a new regime for SPS measures in CARIFORUM states.
“The continued viability and further development of the fishing industry of the CRFM region face several challenges, some of which are related to inadequate development of SPS systems to suit the specific needs of fisheries and aquaculture operations,” said CRFM executive director Milton Haughton ahead of the two-day meeting.
Haughton said the experts are meeting to bring forward work begun a year ago on preparing model legislation.
The meeting will unveil model fisheries and aquaculture SPS legislation that is to be presented to CARICOM with the intention of being enacted in each exporting nation. The model legislation has been developed in consultation and communication with policymakers, fisherfolk, processors and other industry players.
Compliance with globally established SPS standards is voluntary – a worrisome development that experts say is stopping member states from tapping into niche markets overseas and boosting foreign exchange earnings.
Investigations by international consultants on the project exposed large gaps in legally binding protocols managing food safety throughout the region.
The experts found barriers to trade of fish and fisheries products due to inadequate SPS standards; minimal legislative standards for aquaculture; concern about food security and decreasing use of local, fresh seafood – the solution for which improved SPS support is an essential component, the CRFM said.
With the impact of global environmental changes including climate change on the Caribbean, the regional fisheries agency said there is need for improved management and monitoring of the natural environment that sustains fisheries and aquaculture production.
Government officials from each CRFM member state are to review and endorse the final documents to allow final approval. These will then be recommended to CARICOM’s Council for Trade Economic Development (COTED), the regional bloc’s forum of trade ministers, as well as other CARICOM bodies.
The two-day meeting is the high point of a European Union-funded project to help CARIFORUM countries introduce laws, regulations and a governance system to guarantee safe seafood for export to EU markets and beyond.
The project, which is being carried out by the Belize-based CRFM and supported by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), aims to ramp up food safety standards to enable CARIFORUM fish exporters to take up trading opportunities under the EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The project is financed under the EU’s 10th European Development Fund (EDF) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Project.