WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies hit “dark” patch

A delegate to the World Trade Organization negotiations on ending harmful fishery subsidies has described the current state of talks as "dark."

A delegate to the World Trade Organization negotiations on ending harmful fishery subsidies has described the current state of talks as "dark."

Members are battling over which authorities should be empowered to adjudicate and prosecute illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing provisions and how much due process should be prescribed to honor an IUU determination.

“The chair of the talks asked members at the close of the meeting not to undo proposed compromises in the draft text after years of back and forth on this,” according to a trade official in Geneva, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Negotiators are also debating whether IUU subsidy prohibitions should be limited to only vessels engaged in IUU activities or should instead include the entire fleet of an operator. The United States is leading a push to include reefers and transshipment vessels in the prohibitions.

Questioning whether the current grappling represents “the storm before the calm,” the official did not have confidence a deal would be struck.

“It’s definitely a bit dark right now,” the delegate said.

Article 8 in the draft text, which deals with transparency and disclosure issues, was the subject of a proposal by India to require members to submit information on fuel subsidies, including blanket fuel subsidy programs not intended for fisheries in particular. This would be contrary to current WTO practices of policing only "specific" subsidies.

The proposal has been well-received by delegates from Western countries – some of whom represent countries opposed to the prohibition of non-specific fuel subsidies –  as an alternative to an outright prohibition.

Carve-outs for poorer member states remains contentious, according to the official. A large number of developing countries at the talks refused to make special and differential treatment conditional on them fulfilling transparency obligations or publishing the subsidies they intend to award if granted differential treatment. But similar blockages have been unblocked in the talks with the offer of technical assistance, the official said.

Negotiators remain divided on whether to accept a U.S. proposal requiring members to submit information on any vessels and operators that make use of forced labor. Some members have stated the WTO is not the appropriate forum for labor issues. It’s unclear is negotiators will have a text ready to present to a ministerial meeting later this month, the previously-stated goal of WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization


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