SDT thorniest issue in WTO fishery subsidy talks with a month to go before deadline

Special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries is proving the thorniest issue at ongoing World Trade Organization talks to end harmful subsidies to fisheries as a 15 July deadline for an agreement draws nearer.

Negotiations appear split between lower-income developing nations, whose negotiators believe current suggested text on SDTs is too restrictive, and wealthier nation-states, which have argued the text is too permissive in allowing developing nations to continue subsidizing domestic fishing even when certain stocks are overfished.

Colombian Ambassador to the WTO Santiago Wills, who is chairing the negotiations, is also attempting to land an agreement on notification and transparency obligations, and is struggling to find common ground on the wording that would limit subsidies for distant-water fisheries, covered by articles 5.2 and 5.3 of the current draft text. Furthermore, negotiators are divided on which authorities will be recognized in determining whether IUU has occurred, and how automatic a subsidy elimination should be when that determination is made.

Adding complexity to the negotiations, the representatives of several countries involved in the negotiations have differed in their definitions of what constitutes illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, with developing nations seeking assurances that artisanal fishermen be excepted, but that larger countries not be allowed to subsidize industrial-sized fishing vessels.

Nonetheless, WTO members are drawing closer to compromise on a final IUU text in the draft agreement,  a trade official in Geneva with knowledge of the negotiations told SeafoodSource.

Meanwhile, a U.S. proposal to insert text on eliminating forced labor on fishing vessels was not presented nor commented upon at the recent negotiating sessions. The U.S. had previously floated the issue at an April meeting of heads of delegations, but at this late stage in the talks, it is unlikely members will seek to add further complexity to the negotiations.

Photo courtesy of olrat/Shutterstock


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