Leading up to Ministerial, WTO Negotiating Group Focuses on Fisheries Subsidies
UN Photo/M Guthrie
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Sixteen years after the World Trade Organization (WTO) began negotiations on fisheries subsidies at the Doha Ministerial Conference, its Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) is expected to take up the issue when it meets in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this December.

The Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) Chair, Ambassador Wayne McCook (Jamaica), circulated a compilation matrix reflecting seven textual proposals on fisheries subsidies.

On 13 October, the WTO reported progress from the NGR meeting, which led to a compilation text, based on these proposals.

Sixteen years after the World Trade Organization (WTO) began negotiations on fisheries subsidies at the Doha Ministerial Conference, its Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) is expected to take up the issue when it meets in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this December. In advance of this meeting, the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR), tasked with “developing stronger rules while respecting the important policy concerns of WTO members” met twice in October to progress negotiations towards a fisheries subsidies outcome.

MC11 comes at a time of enhanced global momentum and action on ocean issues. The universally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, includes a Sustainable Development Goal focused on the ocean (SDG 14) and a target to regulate and end destructive and illegal fishing practices (target 14.4) by 2020. In 2016, the UN held the first World Ocean Conference to support action towards the achievement of SDG 14.

Regarding fisheries subsidies, on 28 July 2017, the NGR Chair, Ambassador Wayne McCook (Jamaica), circulated a compilation matrix reflecting seven textual proposals. The matrix includes seven proposals from: New Zealand, Iceland and Pakistan; the European Union; Indonesia; the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Group of States; a Latin American group composed of Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay; the Least-Developed Countries (LDC) Group; and Norway. According to the WTO, each proposal supports reaching a decision for MC11. [WTO Press Release, 28 July 2017] [WTO Introduction to Fish Subsidies]

In September, Bloom and the Varda Group published a brief titled, ‘The Low Hanging Fish,’ which reviews these ‘seven WTO proposals addressing harmful fisheries subsidies.’ The brief outlines the key issues of: scope of the subsidies prohibitions; overfished stocks; overcapacity; exemptions; geographic scope; special and differential treatment; transparency; technical cooperation; and the transitional period. For each issue, the authors offer a comparison across the seven proposals as well as their recommendations for a way forward.

From this text, the Chair “identified issues where he believed members were in general agreement.”

Most recently, on 13 October, the WTO reported progress from the NGR meeting, which led to a compilation text, based on these proposals. From this text, Chair Ambassador McCook “identified issues where he believed members were in general agreement.” These issues included the scope and the nature of the measures to be covered, and the subsidies contributing to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and those harming fish stocks, “notwithstanding important technical and political hurdles to overcome in both areas.” He also highlighted the areas of greatest divergence, such as on “technical aspects and effects of certain capacity- and effort-enhancing subsidies” and special and differential treatment provisions for developing and least-developed countries. The NGR is meeting from 31 October-3 November, to read through this compilation text.

For additional information, reference also, ‘An Ocean in Chains,’ which reviews the links of fisheries subsides and related issues to SDG 14. MC11 will convene from 10-13 December 2017.


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