It was a milestone achievement for Bangladesh of availing 1.19 lakh square km in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh's marine resources, if utilised properly, can help eradicate poverty by ensuring food and employment for many poverty-stricken coastal people.
Now, the role of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, and others concerned, is to make an effort to set relevant regulatory and infrastructural support systems to explore these resources.
Marine resources can potentially contribute around 4% of Bangladesh's GDP. However, it needs an integrated effort of twenty-six maritime economic functions, which include fishing, maritime trade and shipping, energy generation, tourism, mineral extraction, coastal protection and maritime safety, etc.
In the meantime, the Department of Fisheries(DoF) has prepared certification issues of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported(IUU) fishing so that if there is any IUU, it can be adequately reported, as had been discussed in the 12th Ministerial Conference(MC) and there will be a much more detailed debate in the MC13.
Presently, available resources in the country are insufficient to explore sea wealth; our shipping services primarily depend on foreign shipping companies. So policies and packages of incentives to local shipping companies, to add more resources to the existing fleet, is an important issue.
Experts also said that there is potential for a blue economy for marine-based renewable energy, utilising the wind and waves for supplying energy with a low carbon footprint. Precious and useful minerals such as zircon, rutile, limonite, leucoxene, kyanite, garnet, magnetite and monazite can also be sourced, and proper extraction of these minerals may enhance the local industries such as welding electrodes, paper, glass, chemical and ceramic sectors.
So far, there is no specific assessment of the available resources and how much Bangladesh would benefit if deep sea fishing could get a boost.
Bangladesh is primarily dependent on internal aquaculture and near-shore catch. For deep-sea fishing, there is a need for both soft and hard infrastructure, long-term financing support and logistics development.
The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies focusing on environmental sustainability, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 (UN SDG), came to the surface during the MC12.
The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference on 12-17 June 2022 in Geneva reached a consensus on the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies and adopted the Protocol Amending the Marrakesh Agreement.
Fisheries subsidies were the most debated issue in the Ministerial Conference 12, held in Geneva. The agreement is meant explicitly for marine wild capture and fishing-related activities at high sea and, of course, does not concern aquaculture and inland fishing.
Bangladesh, the fourth largest country in the fishery sector, has a considerable stake. About four million people are engaged in the fishery sector here. The blue economy has created a further opportunity to increase fishery resources.
While Bangladesh is at an initial stage of reaping the full benefits of marine resources, how will the upcoming MC13 in February 2024 affect Bangladesh in preparing to access these resources?
The 12th Ministerial Conference, under its agreement on fisheries subsidies, decided on termination of the agreement if the countries do not adopt comprehensive disciplines. Article 12 of the agreement has set a deadline of four years after it enters into force, to agree on a comprehensive discipline, and unless otherwise decided by the general council, the agreement shall stand immediately terminated.
During the Prime Minister's recent visit to Geneva, the WTO DG asked Bangladesh to reduce the subsidies on fisheries. The Foreign Minister, in a press briefing, said that they would consider the issue of subsidies (appeared in the financial report on June 17, 2023).
WTO DG emphasised learning from the experiences of Japan, Thailand and Maldives in deep sea fishing, in response to a point raised by the PM that Bangladesh needs enough capacity building in that respect.
So far, it is seen that China is the world's largest producer of wild catch, among countries providing subsidies, and has a significant impact on the sustainability of not only domestic but also global fish stocks.
A study reported that the country provides substantial subsidies to its fishing operations. In 2013, the Chinese central government spent about $6.5 billion on fisheries subsidies, 94 percent of which was fuel subsidies. This study asked whether China's subsidy policies align with the country's stated goals in fisheries management, and found that about 95 percent of Chinese fisheries subsidies were harmful to sustainability.
Bangladesh has a huge stake in the case of fisheries subsidies, especially regarding employment. The country is taking on a drive to create infrastructure to explore marine resources. While other countries have already enjoyed subsidies for several years and developed capacities, Bangladesh would need to gather resources and depend on importing these resources and capacities from abroad.
MC13 will give a strong message in this respect. To pass the agreement, it will need three fourths of its members to ratify the case.
However, it will be a partial agreement as further negotiation will start based on the draft decision to make a comprehensive agreement. The agreement will be reviewed first after five years of coming into force and, after that, every three years.
If comprehensive disciplines are not adopted within four years of the entry into force of this agreement, and unless otherwise decided by the general council, this agreement shall stand immediately terminated. In that respect, it is seen as a half-done agreement.
We came to know so far, a few countries have submitted ratification instruments on this agreement. Different countries have different needs and priorities. For example, Africans may be happy with a regulation on overfishing.
Our neighbouring countries have different priorities. There are diversified needs and divisions in the field of interest. Bangladesh needs careful steps following the negotiations of MC13.
To be ready to reap the full benefits of the blue Economy, Bangladesh would need to move and follow vigilantly what others are doing.
So far, Bangladesh does not have any examples of overfishing. However, proper reporting based on scientific evidence is essential. Proper landscape designing, studying relevant rules and regulations, investigating secret syndication if there is any, a framework of reporting policy, enlisting and registration, etc. needs to be taken care of properly to move further for utilising resources of the blue economy.
Ferdaus Ara Begum is the CEO of BUILD-a Public Private Dialogue Platform that works for private sector development.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.