WTO negotiator Santiago Wills sees “landing zones” for agreement curbing harmful fishing subsidies

Published on
November 2, 2021
The chair of the World Trade Organization negotiations to eliminate fishery subsidies, Santiago Wills, is optimistic a deal can be reached soon.

The chair of the World Trade Organization negotiations to eliminate fishery subsidies has said he has a “strong sense of optimism” that a deal can be done before an upcoming ministerial meeting.

Santiago Wills, who recently extended the amount of time delegates have before the latest draft text is published, said there had been “progress in finding landing zones” for wording on opt-outs for developing nations and methodologies for outlining definitions of illegal and sustainable fishing.

Wills has set the new target for an agreement at 30 November, when a ministerial meeting is scheduled to take place. According to Wills, the coming weeks will "not be easy.”

Fleets in several WTO member states currently depend on subsidies for fuel and for fleet development to remain profitable. Several large listed Chinese fishing firms regularly report losses even with subsidies and tax-free landing of catches.

Upping the urgency for a deal, 300 scientists from across the world have published a letter in Science calling for an end to harmful subsidies to “curb overfishing, biodiversity degradation, and loss and CO2 emissions.” That letter demands an end to all subsidies to distant-water fleets and for price supports that keep prices for catches “artificially high.” The scientists back exemptions for developing-nation subsistence fishing, but only if exemptions are decoupled from incentives to overfishing.

Spain, as the top recipient of subsidies from the European Union, the world’s third-largest source of harmful subsidies – according to the Science letter – could play a “leading role” at the talks, according to University of Santiago de Compostela Professor Sebastian Villasante, one of the signatories of the letter. He said harmful subsidies were public monies being used to support overfishing and “inefficient” fishing fleets. 

Recent research by The Pew Charitable Trusts has shown that an elimination of all harmful subsidies would lead to a 12.5 percent increase in fishery biomass by 2050.

Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization

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