WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala calls for deal to curb fishing subsidies

The new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has emphasized her commitment to getting a deal done on ending fishery subsidies.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a trained economist and former government minister in Nigeria, was appointed as WTO director-general in February.

On Monday, 1 March, Okonjo-Iweala addressed the media in front of WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, speaking beside an ice sculpture in the shape of a fish placed there by a coalition of 175 non-governmental organizations to bring awareness to the issue of global overfishing.

“The world is leaving the WTO behind. Leaders and decision-makers are impatient for change," she said, according to CBS News.

Okonjo-Iweala said she would seek to “unblock” the talks holding up an agreement on curbing fishing subsidies, which stalled out last year but were revived in January under the Santiago Wills, Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO, who is chairing the talks.

Okonjo-Iweala comes from a country familiar with the environmental and social cost of overfishing; West Africa has been significantly impacted by industrial fishing by distant-water fleets operating with generous fuel subsidies from their home countries. The issue of overfishing in West Africa has been compounded by a lack of regional coordination and opaque deals between individual governments and foreign fishery companies.’

Okonjo-Iweala called for a deal to end subsidies that enable  illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing “as soon as possible,” and credited Wills for his “really hard" work.

“My presence is to try and support him proactively to try and unblock the situation so he can complete the fantastic work he has been doing,” she said. “It has been 20 years – and 20 years is enough.”

In response, Wills said it was “music to my ears to see on the first day the [director-general] comes here and makes a statement on the fisheries negotiations.”

Gemma Parkes, spokesperson for Friends of Ocean Action, an informal grouping of 57 leaders facilitated by the World Economic Forum; Peter Wooders, a director at the International Institute of Sustainable Development; and WWF Director-General Marco Lambertini were among those who conversed with Okonjo-Iweala at the meeting. The joint statement they issued as part of a coalition of marine-focused NGOs said a deal is “closer than ever,” and that 820 million people globally who are dependent on fisheries for food security risk losing that resource if an agreement isn’t reached.

Talks among negotiators are continuing remotely this month on key issues like defining and verifying potential special treatment for developing countries – a key sticking point for India and China, who wish to retain their status as developing countries and the benefits that come with that label.

Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization


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