TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr09/10)
8 April 2009
Third World Network

WTO Rules Group discusses Chair's text on fisheries subsidies
Published in SUNS #6674 dated 3 April 2009

Geneva, 2 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- The WTO Negotiating Group on Rules on 30 March-1 April discussed issues in the Chair's "roadmap for discussions" on fisheries subsidies that is part of his revised draft texts of December 2008.

According to trade officials, the group discussed the first three questions posed by the Chair in his roadmap.

In that roadmap, the Chair, Ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes of Uruguay, had said that "it is clear from the discussions that the participants' views still differ widely regarding which subsidies should be prohibited".

The three questions posed by the Chair were:

"(a) For each subsidy that in your view should be prohibited, how does it contribute to overcapacity or overfishing?

(b) If you believe that a given subsidy should not be prohibited, why? If this is because you do not consider that it contributes to overcapacity or overfishing, what are the specific reasons for this view?

( c) Where you consider that a given subsidy that has been proposed for prohibition should not be included in a list of prohibited subsidies, because in your view it does not contribute to overcapacity or overfishing, how would you address the question of interchangeability of subsidies? Specifically, how could non-prohibited subsidies that reduce costs to the fisheries sector be prevented from contributing to overcapacity or overfishing?"

In opening the informal meeting, the Chair said that participants should not lose the opportunity offered by the relatively quiet phase in the overall negotiations to deepen their understanding of the issues facing the Group in fisheries subsidies. He stressed that he needed new inputs that would enable him to produce a new text on fisheries subsidies.

According to trade officials, New Zealand, on behalf of the "Friends of Fish" group (comprising Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Iceland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Peru and the United States), stressed the need for disciplining fisheries subsidies, citing recent FAO and World Bank studies about the dire situation of the world's fish resources.

It said that the Friends of Fish group supported broad prohibition of fisheries subsidies, and that general exceptions must be targeted and limited.

The US said that all subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing should be prohibited. It added that fuel forms a significant part of the cost of deep-sea fishing.

According to trade officials, many members of the Friends of Fish group supported prohibiting subsidies to the processing and marketing of fish.

Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei said that only those subsidies directly linked to overcapacity and overfishing should be prohibited.

Japan objected to the prohibition of subsidies to port infrastructure and price support, arguing that these subsidies do not lead to overcapacity or overfishing. Chinese Taipei said that subsidies to port infrastructure, operating costs and income support should be allowed. Korea said that all subsidies should be allowed unless they are explicitly prohibited.

According to trade officials, China said that port infrastructure should not be covered by disciplines as it is similar to building roads or railways. It also stressed that aquaculture must be exempted.

Thailand, Vietnam and Tonga (on behalf of the ACP Group), also supported exempting port infrastructure from new disciplines.

Indonesia, on behalf of the ASEAN, said that they are committed to establishing disciplines that would control overfishing, but that there should also be special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries. In addition, Thailand and Malaysia said that subsidies in the context of economic crises should also be exempted.

Tonga, on behalf of the ACP Group, also called for effective special and differential treatment (S&D), especially with respect to subsidies given to operating costs.

El Salvador, speaking on behalf of the small, vulnerable economies (SVEs), called for flexibility for SVEs, including on operating cost, processing, and environmental disaster relief. India said that effective S&D is a "must".

According to trade officials, the EU said that its subsidy programmes are aimed mainly at maintaining the small-scale fishing sector.

It noted that the removal of subsidies often results in domination by big fishing fleets and companies. It further said that the fisheries problem is one of boats. It stressed the need for simple and workable rules.

Canada said that it supports disciplines but urged the exemption of port infrastructure and income support.

In wrapping up the discussions, the Chair thanked the delegations for their "serious engagement". He underlined the need to discuss fully each question in the roadmap. +