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School of Business and Management

Who owns the fish? Global value chains in the fishing industry

Frabelle Transhippment in Lae Bay
Professor Liam Campling

Professor Liam Campling

Professor of International Business and Development

The economies of many developing countries, particularly the Pacific Islands, rely on the fishing trade. The fishers form a part of the global value chains (GVCs) which take the fish on to be processed and sold. Professor Campling’s research has focused on making sure that these GVCs offer the fairest and most sustainable deals for all concerned.

The global tuna industry is worth around US$42 billion a year in final sales. About 68 percent are caught from the Pacific Ocean, 22 percent from the Indian Ocean, and the remaining 10 percent from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Campling’s research has focused on the global value chains in tuna, as well as on international fisheries trade and development. This, along with his ongoing policy work with international agencies, informed six Pacific Island members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), helping them to negotiate prohibitions on fisheries subsidies.

Campling advised the Pacific Islands Forum (14 countries) not to enter into a trade arrangement with the USA, which saved them personnel time and financial resources.

He also recommended ‘rules of origin’ for local fish processing to the East African Community that were more development-friendly. This aided them in negotiating their trade agreement with the EU.

The Solomon Islands was due to graduate from Least Developed Country status, and Campling’s work contributed to the decision by the United Nations General Assembly to grant an extended transition period, thus preserving around 1,800 fish processing jobs.

Tsukiji_Fresh auction

Tsukiji fresh fish auction

Beyond purely theoretical research

Campling has been conducting research since 2004 on the articulations of the international fisheries trade, GVCs in tuna and the political economy of small island developing states (SIDS). He has drawn on interviews with almost 1,000 people in 20 countries. His research has fed into policy making to improve fisheries trade for development at national, regional and international scales.

Campling’s approach is unusual in that he takes into account the human element, the issues of development and economic geography. This is useful in that he is able to better understand how developing countries can find new ways of working so they can negotiate more advantageous economic relationships.

He seeks to understand how global value chains are formed: emphasising how all aspects of the economy are ultimately based on natural resources, and the ways in which dominant firms set up systems that allow them to make a profit while they offload the risks onto other parts of the chain.

Who benefits?

Working on the EU-Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP) relations, Campling has shown that current rules of origin associated with EU trade preferences for tuna products are designed to benefit French and Spanish fishing interests. He has posited that more flexible EU rules of origin are needed, but negotiations must contend with mercantilist interests in the EU.

Is the WTO triple-win policy the best way forward?

In 2001, the World Trade Organisation proposed what they called their triple-win policy, which proposed to end fisheries subsidies. This policy suggests ending subsidies will:

  • Liberalise trade through the reduction or elimination of subsidies that prop-up less efficient operators
  • Improve global marine fisheries by removing incentives to carry on fishing even where stocks are overfished
  • Be beneficial for development, by ‘levelling the playing field’ for those developing countries who are unable to provide huge subsidies to their own fleets

Campling argued that instead, negotiators should start by teasing out the commercial interests at stake among the various ad hoc negotiation blocs and interrogate how each use ‘sustainability’ discourse in different ways to advance these interests.

He explored how small island developing states (SIDS) could better use the rights to their own fisheries resources, in order to aid development in their country. The odds are against these politically-marginal, fiscally-weak polities that suffer from diseconomies of scale. He argues that the interplay of broader ecological, regulatory and commercial factors need to be understood.

[Campling’s] depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise on fisheries economics and global fisheries development … has greatly assisted the Pacific negotiating team. This has helped to sharpen the focus of our negotiations on key elements and outcomes that are beneficial to the Pacific.
— Ambassador Falemaka, Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum in Geneva

What improvements has Campling’s research driven?

Influencing WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations

Campling’s work translated abstract proposed trade rules into implications for real-world fisheries development. He recommended an approach to negotiating that provides developing Members the space to develop their fisheries into the future. He wrote text that seeks to preserve the sovereign rights that states have over their marine resources. This was submitted to the WTO.

He was able to advise the Pacific Group so that they built capacity and could act as a distinct entity. This helped them to consider the implications of proposed WTO rules on the diverse fishing interests from artisanal to industrial scale, and how this impacted the Pacific Group in particular.

Campling enhanced national level engagement with the negotiations, especially among delegates from capitals in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) set out the policy objective of achieving a balance between supporting a global reduction in fisheries subsidies with that of ensuring “that any outcome should not unnecessarily constrain the ability of SIDS [small island developing states] to develop their tuna fisheries”.

Helping the East African Community negotiate successfully with the EU

Based upon his research demonstrating that European Union (EU) trade preferences need more flexible rules of origin, Campling advised the East African Community (EAC) in 2012 to push for more ‘development-friendly’ rules of origin in trade negotiations with the EU.

As the EAC’s Director General, Trade and Customs put it, EAC negotiators used this research to successfully justify a position ‘that more than doubled the prior derogation decision’ in its agreement with the EU.

Pacific Island leaders decide not to trade with the US

Working with Elizabeth Havice, Campling recommended against the 14 Pacific Island countries (PICs) entering into negotiations for a trade and investment arrangement with the USA.

The US retail markets are low profit, and there is so much global competition that the relatively high processing costs incurred in the PICs would not be offset.

The PICs did not anticipate this advice, but the research persuaded leading figures in the region such as the Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency to recommend a different course of action. This saved considerable financial and personnel resources for very small, fiscally-squeezed states.

The Solomon Islands’ graduation from Least Developed Country status
Campling’s research considered the socio-economic impacts on the Solomon Islands of its graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status. As a result, the Solomon Islands’ government requested and gained an extended transition period from the UN.

Tuna exports from the Solomon Islands depend upon duty-free access to the EU market. The investigation showed that the removal of LDC status would stop onshore tuna processing. The United Nations General granted ‘on an exceptional basis … an additional preparatory period of three years’.

This made around 1,800 fish processing jobs potentially secure for an additional six years, buying the government time to pursue alternative EU market access arrangements.

Decorative image of fish jumping through water

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