WTO pursues agreement on fishing subsidies after 20 years of debate

The three countries that fish the most in the world are China, Peru and Indonesia, considered developing economies, while Russia is in fourth place.

EFE Agency
Updated on 07/14/2021 12:29 pm

(Photo: AFP)

Representatives of the 164 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) begin tomorrow (Wednesday) in a meeting at the ministerial level to study limitations on global subsidies for fishing, after 20 years of arduous negotiations; the WTO wants to culminate the negotiations with an international agreement in December.

It will not be an easy task, since there are still many divergences on what subsidies to prohibit and developing countries ask for a differentiated treatment that the developed powers still want to clarify.

In fact, 2020 had been set as the deadline for reaching an agreement, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the negotiations and they continue throughout this year.

Although an agreement is not expected at tomorrow’s meeting, it is expected to pave the way to achieve it at the next WTO ministerial meeting, which will be held from November 30 to December 3, also in Geneva.

The debate on subsidies, which began in 2001 with the Doha agenda and has economic but also environmental aspects, seeks to prohibit aid that encourages illegal practices and overfishing, something that threatens the conservation of the marine environment.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( FAO ) estimates that 34% of the world’s fishing grounds are overfished, more than triple the number half a century ago, endangering a sector in which 39 million people work all over the world.

The Colombian ambassador to the WTO, Santiago Wills, is chairing the negotiations and in his latest draft agreement, presented in June, he introduced new features such as the proposal for a two-year “truce” period in which the subsidy ban does not apply for developing countries, although this does not satisfy everyone.

This is the case of the European Union, which attends these negotiations as a bloc and has Spain as the main fishing power: Twenty-seven sources see “nonsense” that there are large exemptions for developing countries, with 12 of the 20 with more fish catches in the world belong to that block.

China, key in the debate

The three countries that fish the most, for example, are China, Peru and Indonesia, considered developing economies, while Russia is in fourth place, the United States in fifth and Spain is in nineteenth position.

The negotiations could become even more complicated and take on political connotations, since the United States wants to introduce a social aspect to the possible agreement and has asked that it seek to sanction the use of forced labor in fishing, something of which Washington accuses Chinese fishing companies.

Despite the difficulties, there is some optimism in the face of the negotiations, since according to observers the WTO is pressing like never before to reach an agreement, something that would also benefit its image, after two decades without major trade agreements having been signed within the body.

Many agree that the arrival of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, determined to make the WTO more dynamic and regain its mediating role, can help the agreement to be reached.

One of the thorniest points to achieve this, however, is that of fuel subsidies, which environmental organizations ask to eliminate but which in many countries, especially for small fishing companies, are key to their economic continuity.

Banning these aid diesel, something that in principle both Spain and the EU oppose, and can increase the costs of fishing companies and even cause some of them to be unviable, thereby leaving many fishermen without a livelihood and increasing social unrest in the sector, observers warn.

Fishing in international waters, in the spotlight

Another point for debate, and requested by environmental organizations, is whether to prohibit a country’s subsidies to fishing that takes place in international waters and not regulated by a regional fishing organization, where it is more difficult to control illegal practices and overfishing.

This could curb much criticized practices such as the fishing of Chinese workmen in waters near the Ecuadorian Galapagos Islands, a sanctuary of biodiversity that is feared could be in danger as a result.

In a way, the negotiations are similar to those that have taken place for years to achieve a reduction in emissions to curb climate change, although there it is a question of stopping unsustainable fishing to avoid the disappearance of species in the oceans.

In both cases, there is a clear debate between developed and developing countries: the former argue that limiting subsidies will not help marine species if powers like China are left out of the measures.

Developing countries, for their part, say that those who have left the fishing grounds without fish are the big fishing companies of the rich countries.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the negotiations will be conducted virtually, and over three different sessions to accommodate the time difference between Asia, Europe and America.

The WTO estimates that each year there are subsidies to fisheries worth between $14 billion and $54 billion.

Read the original coverage from Gestion Peru at https://gestion.pe/economia/omc-persigue-un-acuerdo-sobre-los-subsidios-a-la-pesca-tras-20-anos-de-debate-noticia/?ref=gesr


Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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