President Yahya Jammeh yesterday tasked Africans to continue to demand that international trade in fish and fishery products should be fair and equitable, and should not compromise the sustainable development of fisheries and responsible utilization of living aquatic resources.
"There should not be hidden barriers to trade which limits the consumer's freedom of choice of supplier, or that restricts market access," Jammeh said in a statement delivered on his behalf by the Vice President and minister of women's affairs, Isatou Njie-Saidy, at the opening in Banjul of the first conference of African ministers of fisheries and aquaculture.
According to President Jammeh, there is a need for states dealing with Africa, and wishing to introduce changes in the legal or regulatory requirements that affect fish trade, to give sufficient information and reasonable notice to allow us producers affected to adjust to changes by introducing changes needed in processes and procedures to ensure compliance. This, he added, is what constitutes fair and equitable trade.
Contributing to the debate relating to fish access agreements and trading in fish and fish products, President Jammeh said that the present generation of fishing agreements are unfair, inequitable and consequently of little benefit to coastal states that own these invaluable God-given natural resources.
"As a continent, Africa should come together to demand access agreements that contribute to the sustainable development of the sector, and for improvement to the lives of our people. The same goes for trade," he said.
In the view of the Gambian president, there is also need to protect the trans-boundary aquatic ecosystems, especially their living resources by supporting aquaculture practices within national jurisdiction, and by promoting sustainable aquaculture practices.
Any rapid expansion of the aquaculture industry, he said, cannot come with causing environmental impact. However, he went on, when done responsibly, the environmental, as well as possible social impacts will be minimal.
Ms Elizabeth Tankeu commissioner for trade and industry at the African Union Commission told delegates that it is a palpable fact that the exploitation of our marine resources has not measured up to the potential that the sector offers.
For most parts of the continent, she said, Africa can take charge of her fisheries resources, manage and turn them into wealth as has been demonstrated by quite a number of countries with fisheries resources.
In her view, for this to happen, all stakeholders and the national governments must take steps to understand and appreciate this potential, priotise fisheries in their national plans and enhance budgetary allocation to the sector.
According to her, strategic dissemination of lessons learned from the success stories and best practices of the countries that have turned fisheries into wealth, will help Africa duely tap its fisheries potential and significantly contribute towards improvement of nutrition, as well as elimination of hunger and poverty.
"Fisheries are vital for many Africans who daily catch, process, transport and sell fish. Their work result in a range of benefits for the continent, and most significantly, this include the production of a large volume of fish for food.
"This is food that is consumed locally, traded across the continent and exported globally to generate around $5 billion in foreign currency for African economies each year," said Dr Ibrahim Assane Makayi chief executive officer at the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency.
According to Dr Makayi, although the African fisheries sector produces substantial benefits, the continent faces major problems to ensure long term resources sustainability. It was against this background, he added, that the African heads of state and government, as part of their overall vision of Africa-owned and led development, endorsed the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) in 2003 as a framework for the restoration of agricultural growth, food security, and rural development in Africa.
Africa has made progress with regard to policy implementation and governance of our fisheries resources with the support of partners in development, Dr Makayi went on.
CAADP, he said, is based on two major principles: the pursuit of a six percent average annual growth at the national level in the agricultural sector; and, the allocation of ten percent of national budgets to agriculture.
He said his organization's complementary programme on fisheries works to ensure that fisheries and aquaculture are integrated in these two major targets.
Dr Mayaki emphasized that the African fisheries sector has now reached a threshold at which concerted partnership is critically required in order for the continent to capitalize on recent gains.
He maintained that the African fisheries goals within the CAADP can only be achieved if high quality technical advice is available to our policy-makers to enable them to effectively undertake requisite policy and governance reforms.