Developing member nations continue to voice concerns in renewed WTO fishing subsidy reform talks

Gonzalo Macho Rivero.

Negotiators at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are intensifying talks to reach an agreement on a draft text that would limit subsidies driving overfishing and overcapacity among global fishing fleets.

Icelandic Ambassador to the WTO Einar Gunnarsson, who has been chairing the negotiations, said he hopes to get a deal outlined before the organization’s ministerial meeting in February.

“I can tell you we are really turning up the heat,” Gunnarsson said. “Our main objective is to complete a full read-through of the text, collecting specific suggested amendments as we go through the agreement provision by provision.”

Within the draft’s framework, negotiators are trying to agree on rule exemptions for developing member nations of the WTO, many of which oppose the way the talks are heading.

Indian representatives are threaning to block any deal the WTO puts forward, claiming the responsibility for overfishing rests with a handful of the world’s largest economies, specifically those with distant-water fleets. A letter issued in July 2023 by Indian fishery unions and civil society groups described the WTO agreement as “grossly unjust and inimical to the interests of fishers in developing and less developed countries, especially for small-scale fishers.”

The letter said developed countries “in particular in Europe and North America” are mostly to blame for overfishing by paying subsidies that support industrial fishing, and that countries with no distant-water fleet deserve a 25-year transition to new subsidy rules, not the two years proposed in the WTO talks.

The negotiations exclude

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