WTO members review proposals for addressing fisheries subsidies / by Francisco Blaha

I know that I'm quite insistent on subsidies, but as I said many times before, if we manage to eliminate them, I believe we will have a fairer chance at having sustainability in fisheries. 

While we can strengthen institutions,  train inspectors, create e-CDS systems, develop better fisheries management tools and the rest, these are just palliative care strategies.  In my opinion, some of the root causes of IUU and overfishing are on the subsidies policies.

WTO members gave their initial review on 24 January to a new paper from the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDC Group) regarding principles and elements for new multilateral disciplines on fisheries subsidies and further reviewed another three proposals from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, the European Union, and six Latin American countries. All four initiatives seek to achieve the 2020 targets set out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

SGD Goal 14.6 calls for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refraining from introducing new such subsidies, by 2020. Goal 14.6 also recognizes that appropriate and effective special and differential (S&D) treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.

Introducing the LDC Group proposal at a 24 January meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR), Benin and Senegal said addressing fisheries subsidies was a priority for LDCs, who were not the cause of overfishing but were the first to be affected by it. The paper sets out disciplines to achieve the SDG goals in the future but emphasises the importance of S&D treatment. In this regard, Benin and Senegal noted that disciplines should be calibrated to target large-scale industrial fishing operating outside a subsidizing member's national exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and not to prevent artisanal and small-scale fishing in territorial waters. The fisheries sector is important to the livelihood and well-being of LDC members, and not all subsidies cause overfishing, they argued.

The proposal would specifically seek to prohibit subsidies to fishing vessels or fishing activity that negatively impact overfished stocks, subsidies provided to vessels or operators engaged in IUU fishing and subsidies to capital and operating costs which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.  The first two prohibitions should apply to all WTO members without exception; however, technical assistance and transition periods should be provided to address LDCs' institutional and financial constraints in implementing the disciplines.

Further discussions also took place on the proposals put forward at previous NGR meetings by the ACP Group, the EU, and six Latin American countries - Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. Details on those proposals are available here.

Summing up the full day of discussions, the chair, Ambassador Wayne McCook, said progress was steadily building and that the next phase of the negotiations would be crucial. He said he would hold consultations with interested members starting the week of 30 January and in early February, with the idea of reconvening the NGR later in February to review the progress made.

Canada told members that the first meeting of participants in a plurilateral initiative on fisheries subsidies would take place later in the week and that any delegation interested in attending should let Canada, the group coordinator, know of its interest.