On special and differential treatment for developing and LDC members, delegates “continued to disagree” on which criteria should be used to identify countries that would qualify for special treatment and transition periods.
Members also considered provisions relating to subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing in the draft consolidated text, and rules for how panels should handle fisheries subsidies disputes.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Negotiating Group on Rules held a week-long series of meetings on fisheries subsidies in February. Members focused on three topics: special and differential treatment for developing and least developed country (LDC) members; provisions relating to subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing in the draft consolidated text; and rules for how panels should handle fisheries subsidies disputes.
The WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) and SDG target 14.6 give negotiators the task of securing an agreement on eliminating subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing by the end of 2020. In March 2020, the COVID-19 crisis resulted in the suspension of in-person meetings, and members used online meetings and written exchanges to continue negotiations. Despite their efforts and “almost daily” meetings in late November, WTO members were unable to finish negotiations by the 2020 deadline. At the 14 December informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, WTO members committed to build on their progress and reach a resolution in 2021.
Members held bilateral and small group discussions from 15-19 February 2021. They concluded the week with a heads of delegation meeting on 19 February, where participants observed that “fundamental differences” still remained. Some said there had been a “very limited meeting of the minds” but remained confident they could still negotiate a deal.
On special and differential treatment for developing and LDC members, members discussed whether certain developing countries and LDCs should be allowed time to expand their fleets through subsidization or whether a transition period should be used to increase countries’ abilities to monitor their fish stocks and therefore be able to subsidize fishing in well-managed waters. Members “continued to disagree” on which criteria should be used to identify countries that would qualify for special treatment and transition periods. Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, who is chairing the discussions on this topic, observed significant gaps in members’ views on the issues. At the same time, he said he does not believe members’ differences were “unbridgeable,” and emphasized there are common elements in members’ proposals that could serve as a basis for building consensus.
Members also reviewed the architecture of the chapter on overcapacity and overfishing, and discussed provisions to guide WTO dispute settlement panels. They considered which legal tests would trigger subsidy prohibitions. One member opposed a provision that would ban subsidies contingent on fishing in areas beyond a members’ jurisdiction, and preferred an agreement that prohibited fuel subsidies and fuel tax exemptions. Another member said a ban on fuel detaxation schemes would be “irrelevant” because such a provision would only apply to fuel sold in a member’s own jurisdiction.
The Chair of the Negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, reminded members to begin reflecting on a “acceptable outcome that could lead to a successful conclusion of the negotiations” and benefits for global fish stocks and the ocean. The incoming WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said a successful conclusion to the negotiations is among her immediate priorities. She called for the WTO to “deliver new fisheries subsidies disciplines as soon as possible in 2021” and to deliver early success and results, leaving MC12 as the venue to conclude on modalities for implementation.
Members will convene for the next cluster of fisheries subsidies meetings during the week of 15 March. To bridge divergent views, members may meet in small group consultations in advance of the cluster of meetings. [WTO Press Release] [WTO Director-General Elect’s Statement] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on January Negotiations]