WTO takes important steps towards global trade rules for sustainable fishing

 Negotiations on unsustainable fisheries subsidies have been ongoing for nearly 20 years

The World Trade Organization (WTO) held a ministerial meeting on July 15 on fisheries subsidies, which confirmed the commitment to set the course for a successful outcome on negotiations before the WTO’s Ministerial Conference starting in November 2021.

The Ministers reconfirmed their shared objective to reach an agreement that will make a meaningful contribution to halting the continued degradation of the world’s fisheries resources and the economic activities, and livelihoods they support. While some divergences remain, the consolidated text proposed by the Chair of the negotiations provides a solid basis for the final leg of the negotiations.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-third of global fish stocks are overfished and most of the rest is fully exploited. This is up from 10% in 1970 and 27% in 2000. Depleted stocks threaten the food security of low-income coastal communities, and the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable fishers who must go further and further from shore only to bring back smaller and smaller hauls.

Each year, governments hand out around $35 billion in fisheries subsidies, two-thirds of which go to commercial fishers. These subsidies keep at sea vessels which would otherwise be economically unviable. World leaders in 2015 made a fisheries subsidies agreement by 2020 part of the Sustainable Development Goals and trade ministers reaffirmed this pledge in 2017.

The negotiations on fisheries subsidies disciplines have been ongoing for nearly 20 years. Although there has been recent progress thanks to the intensive work that led to the development of the negotiating text on which members are working, the lack of political impetus in the talks to close the remaining gaps inspired WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to call this July 15 meeting of ministers.

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