WTO fishing subsidies agreement draft text sent to trade ministers, raising hopes of deal
A draft text for an agreement on ending harmful fishing subsidies has been handed to ministers convening 30 November to 3 December in Geneva, Switzerland.
Some of the text in the document remains in brackets to denote it requires ministers’ attention at the World Trade Organization’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference. Santiago Wills, Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO and the chair of the fisheries subsidies talks, said the current draft “reflects an honest attempt to find a balance in members' positions and I think it is the most likely way we can build consensus, without undermining our sustainability objective, and successfully conclude more than 20 years of negotiations.”
“By now, members' different positions and interests have been thoroughly examined and debated. Moreover, the threat that harmful fishing subsidies pose to our oceans loom even larger every passing year, at the risk also to people's livelihood and food security,” Wills said. “However, we have grounds to be optimistic. An Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, one that will help both the planet and people, is within our grasp. It is also an opportunity to build trust in multilateralism, and the opportunity for WTO members to succeed in negotiating new rules for the 21st century. This will also be a big step for sustainability of the global commons. We have that opportunity next week at MC12 – let's take it and deliver.”
The talks have now stretched a year past the deadline set for conclusion under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 14.6. Wills said he is confident a deal will be done, as the text presented is cleaner than many had expected.
But one of the bracketed provisions in the draft text bars any WTO member from giving subsidies to fishing vessels that don’t fly their national flag. Fleets from several large fishing nations, including China, fly under the flags of developing nations, with numerous Chinese vessels flying the Ghanaian flag, for instance. Exemptions for low-income developing countries targeting overfished stocks are also still being debated. And even the exact definition of what constitutes a low-income developing country has yet to be decided.
Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization