WTO fishing subsidies negotiations to resume, as China drops case against EU

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has released a new draft document intended to serve as the basis for forward progress on a deal on eliminating harmful fishery subsidies.

The negotiations, which have a completion deadline of the end of 2020, have been stalled due to disagreement between fishing nations and the global COVID-19 crisis.

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, who is chairing the talks, released a draft text he intends will serve as the basis of new negotiations later this year.

With Switzerland, home to WTO headquarters, beginning to ease pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings, Wills met with WTO heads of delegation on 26 June to present the proposed text, signaling that plenary talks could resume soon.

The document is a “crucial stepping-stone” towards reaching an agreement by the end of 2020 to end harmful fisheries subsidies, according to Ernesto Fernandez Monge, an officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies program.

“Our understanding is that the draft text is based on reports from the negotiation facilitators and on the chair’s March draft text on overfishing and overcapacity. We believe this is a good first step and expect that there will be more iterations of the text,” Monge told SeafoodSource. “This comes at the right moment, as it will allow members to keep up the momentum and reinforce their commitment to finalizing the agreement this year.”

Governments around the world spend around USD 35 billion (EUR 31.1 billion) on fisheries subsidies each year, with USD 22 billion (EUR 19.58 billion) spent on capacity enhancement such as new or larger trawlers, according to an analysis published in the scientific journal Marine Policy in November.

Meanwhile, China has dropped a case it took to the WTO protesting the European Union refusing to grant it market economy status. The E.U. sets tariffs on Chinese imports on the premise that they’re priced at unfairly low prices due to government subsidies and supports. A panel convened to rule on “price comparison methodologies” lapsed as of 15 June, having suspended its work in June 2019.

While it has sought market economy status, China has also sought carve-outs for developing nations during the WTO’s talks on fishery subsidies – on the basis that it itself is a developing nation.

The E.U. meanwhile will have much to do if an agreement at the WTO is to be reached, Fernandez Monge said.

“Fuel subsidies and fuel tax exemptions are widely recognized as the most harmful capacity-enhancing subsidies that governments provide, so it is critical that those types of payments be included in the disciplines and not exempted.”

Recent research from Rashid Sumaila, a professor of ocean and fisheries economics at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and the director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, shows that the European Union is one of the five largest subsidizers in the world – that approximately 54 percent of its subsides are harmful, according to Fernandez Monge.

“The E.U. cannot maintain the current level of subsidies or reintroduce capacity-enhancing subsidies, which is the direction we fear the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund discussions are heading in,” Fernandez Monge said, referencing the primary E.U. fund for fisheries.

Photo courtesy of Filcorz/Shutterstock


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