Europeche defends fuel subsidies, while WTO talks progress “slower than expected”

Published on
June 18, 2021
Europeche President Javier Garat.

The issue of special and differential treatment for developing countries continues to be a primary sticking point in ongoing World Trade Organization talks on ending harmful commercial fishing subsidies.

A debate over allowing flexibility for sustainably managed subsidies also remains a contentious topic, with less than a month to go until ministers from WTO member-states are scheduled to convene to consider whether to adopt the agreement or not.

Despite the disagreements, an accord could still be within reach, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told heads of delegations on 14 June. The deadline for an agreement is 15 July.

Yet according to a trade official in Geneva speaking to SeafoodSource on condition of anonymity, progress in recent weeks has been “slower than expected.” Delegates continue to disagree on how opt-outs for developing countries would be set and policed, as well as on how to classify what should be considered a sustainably managed fishery and where exemptions could apply.

Proposals for changes to the text have come from the United States, which wants to include verbiage on forced labor, as well as from the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group, which wants a more robust definition of overfishing included in the final agreement. Developing countries want to ensure any agreement on developing country carve-outs don’t provide free reign to distant-water fleets take over their traditional fishing grounds.

Earlier this week, Europeche, the main body representing European fisheries, said it wants the European Union to defend its right to continue to provide fuel subsidies, making a claim that the E.U. subsidy regime is more transparent than other regimes’ systems. In a statement, Europeche said the E.U. fleet had been reduced in recent decades, while lower fuel prices give growing fleets in other jurisdictions an unfair advantage over European vessels. Tax relief on fuel should therefore be continued, it said.

Photo courtesy of Europeche

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