WTO talks on harmful subsidies look set for 2021 continuation

World Trade Organization members will be consulted in the coming days on what next steps to take for the fisheries subsidies negotiations in the lead-up to the General Council meeting in mid-December, according to Santiago Wills, the chair of the talks, who serves as Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO.

Wills met with other heads of delegations this week to gather views on key issues concerning illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; overcapacity and overfishing; and special and differential treatment for developing countries. He will meet the delegations again in mid-December, but it appears unlikely at this point that a deal will be done by the end of year, a deadline the WTO set in 2019.

Several ambassadors to the Geneva, Switzerland-based WTO provided drafting suggestions at the meeting, according to a delegate who spoke to SeafoodSource. That delegate expects talks to continue into next year, but said arriving at an agreement will “be a tough slog,” citing wide divergences in positions still remaining despite more than a year of on-and-off negotiations, complicated by the coronavirus.

How authorities might be qualified to make IUU fishing determinations that would trigger a subsidy prohibition is among the trickiest of the remaining issues still being negotiated. Concerns have also been raised over possible conflicts that may arise if different authorities make opposing determinations of whether IUU has occurred or not.

Setting common standards for what constitutes IUU looks set to be another bone of contention. India had circulated a proposal for how a WTO dispute settlement panel may review IUU claims with respect to a coastal state's fisheries management determinations.

Delegations also appear divided on whether or not to allow WTO members to grant or maintain certain capacity-building subsidies if a member can demonstrate that fishery management measures are being implemented to maintain fish stocks at sustainable levels. The U.S., meanwhile, wants a capping mechanism to complement the existing overcapacity prohibitions in a draft text that negotiators have been working on.

That draft remains peppered with holding spaces where agreements remain to be achieved, including special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing nations’ fisheries subsidies. Those exemptions from subsidy bans currently include developing countries that meet certain fishing volume and income thresholds.

Photo courtesy of ricochet64/Shutterstock


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