WTO fails to reach deal on fishing subsidies

Several developing nations, including India, rejected the proposal in the final hours of the meeting
Negotiations on fishery subsidies at the WTO's 13th Ministerial Conference
Negotiations on fishery subsidies at the WTO's 13th Ministerial Conference | Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization
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World Trade Organization negotiators are regrouping after failing to reach an agreement on a treaty curbing harmful fishery subsidies at the 13th Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Despite optimism for a deal prior to the meeting, several developing nations, including India, rejected the proposed text in the final hours of the meeting on Saturday, 2 March, in opposition to what they described as “loopholes” for big fishing nations.

Late in the negotiations, Pacific Island nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa brought forward an older position calling for an outright cap on fisheries subsidies, according to WWF.

“We’re honestly exasperated by the outcome. This should have been the moment when the world woke up to the fact that if we continue this foolish race to catch the last fish there will be no winners. We will all be losers,” WWF WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations Global Lead Anna Holl-Buhl said. “This is a huge missed opportunity to end harmful subsidies for overfishing that are threatening the health and well-being of billions of people worldwide who rely on fisheries for their nutrition and livelihoods.”

Oceana Senior Analyst Daniel Skerritt said the failure was “a dire blow to global marine biodiversity.” The WTO’s continued failure to prohibit subsidies driving overfishing and overcapacity in fishing fleets “jeopardizes” the livelihoods and food security of millions, he said.

“[The world’s governments] are failing to look beyond their own self-interest, prioritizing political posturing overreaching an agreement that would benefit everyone,” Skerritt told SeafoodSource.

Skerritt said the WTO must immediately pivot to focus on ensuring the 2022 WTO agreement curbing fishing subsidies gets ratified within the deadline set by the body. The agreement’s sunset clause – a provision that mandates the termination of the agreement if comprehensive disciplines are not established a set timeline – will come into effect four years from its signing. To date, 71 WTO member states have ratified the agreement, but 110 ratifications are required from among the 166 member states for the agreement to become binding.

Ernesto Fernández Monge, a senior officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts who works on reducing harmful fisheries subsidies, said WTO members are “not off the hook” after the failure in Abu Dhabi.

“The final rules are within reach, and they must continue efforts to ensure the first agreement reached in 2022 enters into force and reach a conclusion to agree on these additional provisions that will help end all harmful fisheries subsidies as soon as possible,” he told SeafoodSource.

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