Push for fishing subsidies ban fizzles out at WTO conference

The 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ended on Wednesday, 13 December without an agreement on a proposal to end fishing subsidies.

The intergovernmental organization, which regulates international trade among its 164 member countries, closed its biennial meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, considered two separate plans that would have addressed subsidized overcapacity in fishing fleets.

One plan would have prohibited countries from subsidizing domestic fleets fishing in their own exclusive economic zones, up to 200 nautical miles from shore. But the proposal met resistance from India, which sought exemptions that were unacceptable to the United States and other countries, according to the Economic Times.

"This could be a slippery slope for India as we might have to bring rules to not allow fishing at a time when fish reproduce," an Indian official told the newspaper. 

A second proposal, from China, focused on the phase-out of subsidies used for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, rather than a total phase out of subsidies. However, it made exceptions for developing countries and areas subject to territorial disputes, and did not clarify the arbiter of what constituted IUU fishing. 

“We have not achieved any multilateral outcomes,” European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said after the conclusion of the conference. “The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing.”

The failure in negotiations caused U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, to criticize the structure of the WTO and suggest that negotiations among smaller groups of “like-minded” WTO countries were a better approach going forward, according to Reuters.

The stalemate also caused aggravation amongst non-governmental organizations, including the World Widlife Fund.

“Despite global calls for an agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies ahead of the Ministerial Conference, short-sightedness by some governments has yet again undermined efforts to end subsidized overfishing,” said Anna Holl, a senior policy advisor for fisheries at WWF-Germany. “It is unfathomable that even efforts to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal fishing were blocked. Subsidized overfishing and illegal fishing, which threatens the health of fish stocks and consequently the livelihoods of tens of millions of people, will continue until a comprehensive and binding agreement by WTO members is reached.”

The only action the WTO took in regard to fisheries subsidies was to promise action by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2019 and to re-commit to implementation of existing WTO subsidies notifications, according to WWF.

“WTO members have no time to waste to meet the 2020 SDG target established by global leaders and deliver on their mandate to produce a comprehensive agreement on eliminating harmful subsidies. WWF reiterates its call for WTO members to address the fundamental problems of subsidized overcapacity in fishing fleets and overfishing. We are now at a critical juncture and the health of our ocean depends on it,” Leslie Delagran, a senior fellow at WWF-U.S., said after the conference ended.


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500