July moment of truth for WTO fishery subsidy talks

Published on
April 28, 2021

The head of the World Trade Organisation is hoping to present a final text of a deal on ending harmful fishery subsidies to a virtual meeting of trade ministers in July.

A series of meetings in April between heads of delegations focused on several key issues which remain to be resolved, including potential exemptions for subsidies to subsistence or small-scale fishing; due process for determining illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and the approach to the prohibition of subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told negotiators she would intervene personally in the talks in coming weeks to get a text finalized.

“We will be asking ministers to meet virtually in July with a focus on fisheries subsidies and possibly one or two other topics. The aim of that meeting will be for ministers to review a very advanced, hopefully final, text,” she said. “We have to present to ministers a text that is complete and clean enough for them to constructively engage and take decisions. Thus, options and brackets will need to be very few. We must have closure in July."

The WTO negotiators have been divided, with developed Western countries seeking a more comprehensive cut to subsidies, which by some calculations amount to USD 22 billion (EUR 18.2 billion) per year in payments by governments to distant-water fishing fleets. Developing countries, India among them, want preferential treatment for artisanal fishing in any deal, but negotiators are divided on which countries should qualify as developing. China's desire to be classed as a developing nation in any deal has drawn the ire of American negotiators, but frustration has also been pointed at the fishery subsidy schemes of the European Union.

Okonjo-Iweala met recently with the trade minister of Spain, home to the E.U.’s largest fleet, and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, discussing a possible deal with both.

Photo courtesy of enzosub/Shutterstock

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