Impact of draft WTO deal minimal for fish stocks, study finds

A group of commercial fishing vessels joining up on the open ocean.

Following the passing of a 15 July deadline for World Trade Organization member-states to achieve an agreement on ending harmful fishing subsidies, the WTO head and The Pew Charitable Trusts are criticizing negotiators for failing to put aside national interests to strike a deal that would benefit the world’s oceans and marine life.

The world’s largest fishing nations are dodging their responsibilities, according to Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project to end harmful fisheries subsidies.

“An ambitious WTO deal that eliminates all harmful fisheries subsidies could restore 12.5 percent of fish biomass to the ocean by 2050,” Jarrett told SeafoodSource. “[In contrast,] the most recent draft of the WTO agreement text would likely only yield an increase of 1.59 percent over that same period.”

New research by the University of California, Santa Barbara found that the current draft text being negotiated will have a minimal impact on fishery stocks conservation, Jarrett said.

The WTO talks have seen members bargaining over how to structure opt-outs for developing member-states and how to define fuel subsidies. Members have also yet to agree on how sustainable fishery stocks are defined. Talks, which have been ongoing in different formats for 20 years and which stalled out earlier this month, are set to recommence in September.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed her frustration at member-states’ negotiating strategies when she closed a virtual meeting of trade ministers last week.

“While textual proposals have evolved over the years, a core problem remains the same. Instead of converging on effective disciplines for all, negotiators have devoted time and ingenuity to finding ways to constrain others' support but not their own. This is what trade negotiators are trained to do,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “Ministers, I congratulate you on the skills of your negotiating teams. But it is not getting us the outcome we need for our oceans.”

Photo courtesy of Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock


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