WTO members were able to advance work on the second wave of fisheries subsidies negotiations during the second of a series of Fish Weeks. The chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, said many members signalled readiness to start engaging in text-based negotiations as the 13th Ministerial Conference scheduled for February 2024 draws closer.
‘I think this week, like the last one, has genuinely advanced our work and our understanding of each other’s positions,’ Ambassador Gunnarsson said at the close of the week, speaking at a meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules attended by heads of WTO delegations. ‘Overall, I think we had a very productive Fish Week – and many of you demonstrated clearly in your interventions that you are more than ready to start engaging in text-based negotiations.’
Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard said the week had been encouraging.
‘I share the Chair’s assessment that your interventions this week have meaningfully advanced our work and have brought us closer to delving into text-based discussions. All time spent engaging on each other’s positions is ultimately time spent on efforts to conserve our marine resources. We are counting on you to keep up your solution-oriented approaches in the run-up to our next meeting in June,’ she said
The first Fish Week held 20-24th March focused on discussing what members wanted to get out of the second phase of fisheries subsidies negotiations. This second Fish Week, which included bilateral consultations, small group meetings, and two plenary meetings for the whole membership, was devoted to how these objectives would be achieved.
The discussions, guided by questions circulated by the chair ahead of the Fish Week, focused on how to make operational the prohibition on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, how to best address subsidies to large scale fishing, including fishing in distant waters, and how to provide appropriate and effective flexibilities for subsidies for small scale artisanal fishing for developing members and least-developed country members.
The chair said there was widespread support for a hybrid approach outlined in previous negotiating texts, in which prohibited subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing were to be qualified based on both a list of types of government support and a condition relating to the biological sustainability of fish stocks.
However, all members agreed that such an approach will require adjusting, the chair noted. One member, he added, suggested a different approach based on certain provisions in the existing Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. The chair said members are willing to also engage on this new approach and he called on members to share new ideas as soon as possible.
Regarding subsidies to large scale fishing, including fishing in distant waters, many members expressed their various preferences for retaining articles from previous negotiating texts. Some spoke to the need to define distant water fishing based on tangible indicators. Some also proposed reduction commitments by major subsidisers. One member made a concrete suggestion recalling its previously-submitted proposal to impose a long-term moratorium on granting or maintaining subsidies to fishing or fishing-related activities by a member engaged in distant water fishing outside its exclusive economic zone.
On special and differential treatment (SDT), some members are of the view that SDT should be a tool to help with compliance with the fisheries subsidies disciplines, while some see SDT as a tool to provide policy space depending on specific parameters, such as the level of fish catch, the level of economic development and the level of subsidization. One point of agreement is that all members recognize the need to safeguard the livelihood and food security of small-scale and artisanal fishing, the chair said.
Furthermore, some members expressed a strong view that any SDT should not be utilised by members whose vessels are engaged in distant water fishing, irrespective of level of development.
The third Fish Week is scheduled for 5-9th June.