In February 2019, WTO Director-General called on WTO members to be ready to engage in discussions at a political level on fisheries subsidies to reach agreement by the 2019 deadline.
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean commended the WTO’s progress on ending fisheries subsidies.
6 March 2019: As World Trade Organization (WTO) members continue negotiations on ending fisheries subsidies, in line with SDG 14 (life below water), UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, commended the WTO’s progress on the issue while continuing to urge for an agreement in 2019.
Fisheries subsidies are addressed in SDG target 14.6, which aims to, “by 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries (LDCs) should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.” Negotiations on fisheries subsidies at the WTO began in 2001 at the Doha Ministerial Conference.
Between 80 and 85% of all fisheries subsidies go to large-scale industrial fleets causing market distortions.
In December 2018, the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the WTO put off agreement on a draft text on subsidy prohibitions relating to IUU fishing and overfished stocks. Instead of an agreement, the Ministerial Conference adopted a decision to “continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations,” with the aim of adopting an agreement in 2019.
In February 2019, WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, observed progress in the WTO negotiations on tackling fisheries at a meeting of the full WTO membership on 27 February 2019. He called on WTO members to be ready to engage in discussions at a political level to reach agreement by the 2019 deadline.
In a statement, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, commended the WTO’s progress. He said fisheries subsidies contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal fishing amounting to “around USD 20 billion per annum.” In addition, Thomson observed that between 80 and 85%of all fisheries subsidies go to large-scale industrial fleets, “causing market distortions that hurt small-scale artisanal fishers and the livelihoods of coastal communities.” He called for ending the billions of dollars spent on subsidies each year and instead spending that money to support the SDGs. He emphasized that a WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies is critical to “conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources” and achieve SDG 14 targets.
In a January 2019 SDG Knowledge Hub guest article, Thomson outlined the case for ending harmful fisheries subsidies, explaining that 2019 is “effectively the year in which we will win or lose our long struggle to rid global fisheries of harmful subsidies.” The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy concluded by urging the WTO to hold a high-level special session in Geneva, Switzerland, before the end of 2019 to agree on the “comprehensive and effective disciplines” necessary to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.” [Friends of Ocean Action Press Release] [Ocean Action Hub Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on 2017 WTO Ministerial Meeting]