TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Jan19/05)
23 January 2019
Third World Network

WTO Rules Group takes up some fresh ideas in fisheries talks
Published in SUNS #8829 dated 22 January 2019

Geneva, 21 Jan (Kanaga Raja) – Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been discussing some new ideas in a bid to overcome some sticking points in the ongoing negotiations for an agreement on the prohibition of certain types of fisheries subsidies, according to trade officials.

These ideas are expected to be reflected in written proposals to be submitted to the negotiating group.

The discussions have been taking place at a cluster of meetings (14-18 January 2019) of the WTO’s (Doha Development Round) Negotiating Group on Rules.

At the eleventh WTO ministerial conference (MC11) held in Buenos Aires, in December 2017, Members had agreed “to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, with a view to adopting, by the Ministerial Conference in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing; and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU-fishing, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing country Members and least developed country Members should be an integral part of these negotiations.”

The Members also re-committed to implementation of existing notification obligations under Article 25.3 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures thus strengthening transparency with respect to fisheries subsidies.

[While MC11 had set the deadline of 2019 for the next ministerial conference to adopt an agreement on fisheries subsidies, the twelfth WTO ministerial conference (MC12) is now scheduled to take place in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2020.]

At the week-long meeting of the Rules Group dedicated to the issue of fisheries subsidies, Australia highlighted several ideas to simplify how the agreement on fisheries subsidies would prohibit harmful subsidies, considering the difficulty posed by the variety of approaches that members currently use to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, to manage overfished stocks, and to deter overcapacity in their fisheries sectors.

Australia said that it would translate these ideas into a proposed text for members to consider in the ongoing negotiations that are meant to conclude by the end of this year.

According to trade officials, a number of members expressed support or openness to explore these ideas further as a possible way to overcome the hurdle over the complex technicalities associated with fisheries management and subsidy programs that have been dogging the negotiations.

The Philippines suggested a simplified approach whereby members would be required to cap their subsidies by a certain amount. It said that it was deliberating whether to submit its own paper.

Meanwhile, Japan provided some insights on how the existing WTO rules would apply to complement the implementation of the future agreement on fisheries subsidies, particularly on the issue of dispute settlement.

According to trade officials, as at previous meetings, a number of members reiterated the need for special and differential treatment for developing countries, the urgency of addressing the issue posed by waters encumbered with conflicting territorial claims, and the importance of fulfilling existing obligations to notify information on a member’s subsidy programs in order to facilitate the negotiations.

Several members said that they were encouraged by the new ideas and the interaction of members during the week-long meeting, which comprised bilateral/small group discussions as well as larger plenary meetings of the entire WTO membership.

According to trade officials, the chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas of Mexico, said that he has heard members remarking on the “new momentum” in the discussions.

The Chair noted that several members have called for these new ideas to be translated into written proposals as soon as possible.

The next cluster of meetings on fisheries subsidies is scheduled to be held on 25 February-1 March.