As the 2020 deadline for concluding fisheries subsidies talks draws near, WTO members demonstrate “deep and substantive engagement” and “a clear commitment to a meaningful outcome”.
China, the Republic of Korea, the EU, and the US have expressed support for the timely conclusion of negotiations by the end of the year, while Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, India, and the African Group reiterated that “it may be useful to start thinking of new timelines in light of unprecedented disruptions from COVID-19”.
Some delegations are “entrenched” in their positions on special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries.
“Entrenched” positions regarding the issue of special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing and least developed countries (LDCs) are presenting a challenge in the negotiations on a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement that would curb harmful fisheries subsidies. The negotiations are due to conclude by the end of 2020 to meet the deadline reflected in SDG target 14.6.
During a meeting of heads of delegation on 20 November, China, the Republic of Korea, and the EU, among other members, urged for the timely conclusion of negotiations by the end of 2020. At the 25th anniversary event of the WTO, US Ambassador Dennis Shea said the US “is fully committed to having a meaningful outcome by the end of the year, which is the deadline that has been set for us.” In contrast, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, India, and the African Group reiterated that “it may be useful to start thinking of new timelines in light of unprecedented disruptions from COVID-19.”
In a video message on World Fisheries Day on 21 November, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations, cited WTO members’ “deep and substantive engagement” and “a clear commitment to a meaningful outcome.” “Now is the time for all WTO members to work even harder to search for acceptable compromises that will allow us to conclude,” he said.
The WTO negotiating group in charge of fisheries talks has met almost daily since 23 November in the run up to the end-of-year meeting of the WTO General Council – the organization’s highest-level decision-making body, alongside the Ministerial Conference. Meetings taking place from 30 November to 4 December are held at the heads-of-delegation level to address any deadlocks.
On 27 November, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, who is leading the consultations on S&DT provisions, reported to WTO members on the talks. He said the “very diverse views” include the position that S&DT should “focus on transition periods and technical assistance that would allow members to fully implement their commitments under a future agreement.” On the other end of the spectrum is the view that “significant carve-outs should be provided based on scale, geographical limits and socio-economic thresholds.”
While he said many members are prepared “to think creatively and look for alternative solutions,” Chambovey expressed concern that some delegations are “entrenched” in their positions. He said indications of flexibility are needed to break a deadlock, and encouraged members “to continue their reflections and to exchange views on possible solutions.”
In ensuing discussions, more than 30 delegations took the floor. South Africa, India, and Fiji, among other developing countries, stated effective S&DT must be part of any future agreement, as required by SDG target 14.6. Many said S&DT should be crafted in a way that excludes small fishers from any new subsidy disciplines related to overcapacity and overfishing.
South Africa, China, and El Salvador, among other delegations, noted S&DT must provide sufficient policy space to enable developing countries to exploit the marine resources within their economic zones. India said S&DT needs to “go beyond” covering “artisanal” fishing.
Some members said any transition periods afforded to developing countries to meet their commitments under a future agreement should be limited in time. They called for a needs-based approach, with flexibility to tailor S&DT to the specific needs of members. Other members did not support needs-based S&DT – or developing countries and LDCs needing to justify use of S&DT provisions.
China and the Russian Federation said any discussions on specific S&DT should take place after the subsidy disciplines are decided. The US saw S&DT discussions as premature as “members still have no idea what subsidies are being disciplined.”
Summing up, Chambovey indicated that he and Wills will present one or two questions on outstanding S&DT issues for WTO heads of delegation to consider when they convene for the concluding fisheries subsidies meeting cluster.
On 24 November, members debated penalties for violations of a future fisheries subsidy agreement. The withdrawal of the prohibited subsidy drew overall support as a “clear” remedy. Some members expressed hesitation as to whether additional remedies should be applied. Several members said countermeasures to retaliate against a member that refuses to withdraw a prohibited subsidy could be useful to enforce the agreement.
Members also exchanged views on the Philippines’ proposal on dispute settlement involving territoriality, and a proposal concerning the rights of land-locked members circulated by Afghanistan, Mongolia, Nepal, and Paraguay. [WTO Press Release on World Fisheries Day] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]