WTO fishing subsidies talks chair Einar Gunnarsson optimistic trade body can reach an agreement

Iceland World Trade Organization Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson
Iceland World Trade Organization Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson | Photo courtesy of WTO
2 Min

Iceland World Trade Organization Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, who has been chairing negotiations on a deal to end harmful fishing subsidies, is optimistic an agreement will ultimately be achieved.

WTO members came “very close” to a deal at the recent talks on fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi ending 2 March. Ultimately, however, the WTO failed to secure an agreement on rules limiting subsidies leading to fleet overcapacity and overfishing.

“We continue to have a mandate to negotiate on disciplines on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing and the related special and differential treatment [for poorer countries],” said Gunnarsson in a statement.

Many WTO members want to “capture the progress made before and at MC13 and to bring the negotiations to conclusion as soon as possible,” Gunnarsson said, suggesting talks will recommence.

However, priority appears to have shifted to getting a partial deal struck in 2022 enacted. The 2022 agreement, which was received by WTO members and NGOs with a mixture of praise and criticism, prohibits support for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, bans support for fishing overfished stocks, and ends subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. The deal also created a fund to provide technical assistance and capacity building for developing and least-developed countries and establishes a fund to help them implement the obligations.

WTO Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard called on WTO members to adapt the 2022 deal, which barred subsidies for IUU fishing.

“[The agreement] will materially improve the health and sustainability of the world's fisheries by prohibiting the worst forms of subsidies,” Ellard said.

To date, 71 WTO members have formally accepted the agreement, with 39 additional acceptances needed for the agreement to come into effect. Major WTO players in the recent negotiations, including China and the E.U., have formally accepted the agreement, while India and Vietnam have not.

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