WTO: Fisheries Deal Remains Uncertain


The second phase of the World Trade Organization's Doha fisheries subsidies agreement remains unclear. Key issues include disciplining major subsidizers responsible for global fish stock depletion.

The week-long Doha negotiating group discussions at the WTO saw proposals for managing overcapacity and overfishing subsidies by major players like the EU, the US, China, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.

The final negotiation round next month precedes the WTO's 13th ministerial conference in February 2024.

A core challenge is determining prohibitions for major subsidizers while allowing developing countries, less implicated in overcapacity and overfishing (OC&OF) subsidies, to develop their fisheries sectors. This includes special and differential treatment frameworks for these countries.

The first part of the fisheries subsidies agreement was completed at the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference in Geneva last June. The upcoming negotiations aim to establish effective disciplines for OC&OF subsidies, determining the agreement's value. Former Brazilian trade minister Celso Amorim emphasized that no agreement is preferable to a bad one.

Doha fisheries subsidies negotiations chair Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland acknowledged members' constructive participation, covering substantial ground. Discussions included the functioning of Article A.1's list, which pertains to subsidies contributing to OC&OF, and possible merging of conditionality aspects in Articles A.1.1 and A.1.2. The African Group, India, and Indonesia questioned the flexibility given to OC&OF subsidizers under sustainability criteria.

Gunnarsson noted broad support for a hybrid approach to discipline overcapacity and overfishing, but members diverge on specific modalities. Some members rejected this approach, combining list and effects methods. Gunnarsson emphasized the need for a solution that retains essential features of the hybrid approach, including meaningful prohibition, sustainability-based flexibility, and focus on major subsidizers.

Special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions are crucial for developing countries to grow their fisheries sectors. Gunnarsson's comments on S&DT were seen as confusing by some negotiators. He noted more positions than solutions but remained optimistic. As per the draft text, developing countries can grant subsidies for low-income fishers within certain limits and if their global marine capture production share is below a threshold.

Ambassador Gunnarsson highlighted the need to safeguard vulnerable fishers while ensuring appropriate mechanisms in S&DT provisions. He mentioned industrialized countries' reluctance to give a blank check for S&DT provisions, paralleling concerns about unchecked OC&OF subsidies for major subsidizers.

Finally, Gunnarsson urged members to intensify efforts to narrow differences and find compromise language, signaling a shift to continuous negotiation mode. He plans to facilitate various meeting formats to foster transparency and inclusiveness, focusing on drafting sessions for Article A and considering the legal form of the negotiated disciplines.


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