Renewed WTO talks on subsidies zero in on overcapacity, overfishing

World Trade Organization negotiations on an agreement to end harmful fishery subsidies have been underway again since 1 September.

World Trade Organization negotiations on an agreement to end harmful fishery subsidies have been underway again since again since 1 September, and have culminated in efforts to get consensus on text dealing with overcapacity and overfishing.

Earlier rounds of talks failed to produce a deal in July, but negotiators reconvened at the beginning of the month for a phase of meetings running to 7 October focused on finalizing article 5.1.1 of the accord, which provides an exemption from subsidy disciplines for sustainably-managed fishing subsidies, and article 5.5, which offers options for exemptions and transition periods for developing and least-developed countries.

The current phase of meetings aims to obtain consensus on the big blocks of draft text in the proposal. A secondary round of talks following to 29 October is planned to fix outstanding issues in the text in advance of a ministerial meeting this autumn.

A trade official in Geneva, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the talks, said some of the suggestions to break the deadlock on text dealing with overfishing include a proposal to focus prohibitions on large-scale industrial fishing subsidies and the imposition of a time limit on the exemption for sustainably-managed subsidies. A suggestion has also been made in the most-recent phase of talks that would link developing country exemptions to their share of global fish catch.

Talks have also centered on clarifying the role of regional fishery management organizations in enforcement, the official said. But divisions remain on how to define, frame, and enforce exemptions for sustainable fisheries. Some members also want text to be refined so that only small players are qualified for exemptions given to developing nations. These issues have bedeviled two decades of WTO negotiations on harmful subsidies.

Rashid Sumaila, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, said it’s important negotiators continue to work on the issues holding up an agreement, even after more than two decades of talks on the issue of fishing subsidies.

“We should keep pushing to the end,” he told SeafoodSource. “I don’t think we should give up now.”

Photo courtesy of Michel Passet/Shutterstock


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