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Source: Small Island Developing States

World Trade Organization (WTO) members did not conclude negotiations on an agreement on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies by the 2020 deadline. A new schedule for meetings in 2021 is being developed, with the aim of bringing “this negotiation to the finish line.”

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 at the 14 December informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee.

Throughout 2020, members have negotiated on the basis of a draft consolidated text first introduced in June 2020 and then on a revised version introduced in early November 2020. The draft text addresses all the main pillars of the negotiations, including prohibitions on subsidies, a placeholder for a capping mechanism and a list of non-harmful subsidies, provisions for special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries (LDCs), technical assistance and capacity building, notification and transparency, institutional arrangements, and dispute settlement. During the final “cluster” of discussions in the 2020 work programme, heads of delegations provided drafting suggestions on IUU fishing, overcapacity and overfishing, and special and differential treatment for developing countries.

On overfishing and overcapacity, a provision in the draft text allows members to maintain or grant certain capacity-building subsidies if a member can demonstrate that fishery management measures are being implemented to maintain a sustainable level of fish stocks. Brazil and the US urged elaborating on a capping mechanism in the text to complement overcapacity prohibitions that are currently in the draft.

On special and differential treatment, members reiterated varying positions during a 2 December meeting. India had proposed draft text to exempt from subsidy bans developing countries that meet certain fishing volume and gross national income (GNI) thresholds. Several members observed a lack of convergence around this text although members also signaled openness to explore and refine the proposed criteria-based approach.

The chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, said “while I am disappointed that we will miss the 2020 deadline, I am not discouraged.” He stressed “real progress” was made on the negotiations during 2020, despite difficulties caused by COVID-19-related disruptions, and emphasized that WTO members are committed to build on their progress and reach a conclusion.

WTO Deputy Director-General Karl Brauner recognized WTO members’ “intensive work on fisheries subsidies” at the Trade Negotiations Committee and Heads of Delegation meeting on 14 December. He agreed with Ambassador Wills’ assessment and observed that the negotiations have made “considerable concrete progress towards finding a solution that all Members can accept.” Brauner said greater political will, pressure from civil society, and renewed engagement will help members finalize an agreement. He called for “compromise by everyone, on all issues” and accelerated activity in 2021 that continues “until we deliver” an agreement. [WTO Press Release] [WTO Deputy Director-General Statement] [WTO Webpage on Negotiations] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News