WTO talks stuck on opt-outs for artisinal, developing fisheries

Exemptions for small, coastal fishing operations remain a contentious issue in World Trade Organization negotiations on a deal to end harmful subsidies to fisheries.

Negotiators, who are meeting in person at the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, are largely in agreement that there should be special treatment for artisanal and subsistence fishers, but remain divided on how the exclusions would be structured.

Last month, three South American states – Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador – put forward a proposal suggesting subsidy prohibitions for overfished stocks and for overfishing must not apply to low-income fishers operating within 12 nautical miles from the coast, with the exemption applicable for all WTO members, so that none are prevented from investing in their economically disadvantaged communities.

“A number of members raised issue with reference to 12 nautical miles in the proposal for different reasons, with some saying this fishing area needed to be enlarged, while others said this was a dangerous loophole that would be hard to monitor,” a trade official familiar with the negotiations told SeafoodSource. “Several further [participants] noted concerns about territorial disputes when bringing in such references into the agreement.”

Meanwhile, India has proposed focusing subsidy bans on large-scale industrial fishing and exempting small-scale fishers, a move that would clearly target top distant-water fishing nations like China. But China has sought its own carve-out as it seeks to classify itself as a developing nation, qualifying it for an exemption from the ban on subsidies.

Another group of WTO members, including Argentina, Australia, the United States, and Uruguay, want a capping mechanism applied on fishing efforts and flexible subsidies for artisanal fishers.

Pressure for a deal has mounted since the new Nigerian WTO director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, emphasized her commitment to getting a deal done in her first day in office, according to Isabel Jarrett, manager of the reducing harmful fisheries subsidies program at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Given her wealth of experience at the World Bank and as a minister for a developing nation, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala brings a unique perspective and skillset to her new role,” Jarrett told SeafoodSource. “On her first day, she underlined that reaching a deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies is critically important for the health of our ocean. Having a representative from a developing nation at the helm of the WTO inspires confidence that developing countries’ voices will be heard and their diverse needs taken into account when shaping a fisheries subsidies agreement, without undercutting the sustainability goals that all WTO members are striving to deliver.”

Photo courtesy of World Trade Organization


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