WTO members advance text negotiations on fisheries subsidies

World Trade Organization (WTO) members began work on a consolidated draft document towards an agreement on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies.

Members reviewed draft language on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, subsidies to distant water fishing, transparency provisions, and special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries (LDCs).

The Negotiating Group on Rules convened a cluster of meetings from 14-18 September. Participants attended meetings, technical discussions, and informal consultations, led by Negotiating Group Chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills (Colombia), in person and via virtual connections.

On overcapacity and overfishing, members discussed whether and how to ban subsidies for fishing outside one’s waters or beyond waters regulated by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs).

Proponents argued such a provision would prevent countries from irresponsible exploitation of the high seas while others said international treaties allow fishing in areas beyond national jurisdictions (ABNJ).

Some members with smaller fishing fleets said they would like “room to grow their fishing capacities.”

Members also discussed how to determine which developing countries and LDCs would be allowed to maintain subsidies for fishing in their own waters, including consideration of proposed criteria such as annual catch volumes and national income to determine exemptions.

Some members expressed concern that these criteria would send the “wrong message” about protection of marine health. One member suggested including a placeholder for a transition period for developing country members to comply with subsidy prohibitions.

Members also discussed whether and how to allow governments to maintain subsidies, such as for fishers to buy boats and fuel, if governments can demonstrate that they have policies in place to ensure the health of their fish stocks.

Some members said this provision lowers the ambition of the agreement. Others said the mandate for the negotiations is only to eliminate subsidies where harm is observed.

A few members underscored the importance of assuring the biological sustainability of the fish stock.

On notification, transparency and surveillance, eight members introduced a proposal to replace the placeholder in the Chair’s draft text.

Proponents said the provision will help members check on each other’s implementation of subsidy curbs.

Other members opposed replacing the text, preferring to make progress on the subsidy prohibitions first, while others reiterated concerns about the burden for developing countries that may not have the capacity to comply with notification requirements.

The Chair noted the 2020 deadline for concluding talks, acknowledging that some members had urged concluding negotiations by the end of 2020, in line with SDG target 14.6.

He also recognized that other members had expressed concern about the feasibility of concluding talks by the deadline in light of the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.

The Chair said work will “continue to be organized” with the aim of continuing to work towards the end of the year deadline, as much as possible.

The Chair will consult with members in the period before the next cluster of meetings, which are scheduled for 5-9 October.

He concluded by praising members’ efforts towards compromise during the negotiations and agreement on how to sequence negotiations moving forward.


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