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South nations insist on reference to DWP in fisheries accord at MC11

The WTO negotiations on regulating fisheries subsidies continue to be dogged by major differences among member states, including over whether to refer to the Doha Work Programme in the outcome text.

by D. Ravi Kanth

GENEVA: A large majority of developing and poorest countries have insisted that any outcome/agreement for prohibiting certain categories of fisheries subsidies must refer explicitly in the preamble to the mandate provided in the Doha Work Programme (DWP) of 2001, trade negotiators told the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

But the industrialized countries along with their allies – Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Uruguay – seem determined to erase “Doha” from the proposed fisheries subsidies agreement as well as the Buenos Aires ministerial declaration, according to negotiators who asked not to be quoted.

During two days of intense discussions that ended on 12 September on a matrix of proposals issued by Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, the chair of the Doha fisheries negotiations, members remained sharply divided on issues such as the preamble, the interpretation of “illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing”, what would constitute fishing/fishing activity, fishing vessel, operator, overfished stocks, and subsistence/artisanal/small-scale fishing.

The matrix, which has compiled all the proposals from members, had been issued on 28 July to facilitate the discussions. The chair had emphasized in his introduction to the matrix that “it is not a chair text” and that “it is a compilation, topic by topic, of the seven textual proposals now on the table.”

The seven textual proposals in the matrix were submitted by: New Zealand, Iceland and Pakistan; the European Union; Indonesia; the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group; Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay; Norway; and the group of least-developed countries (LDCs).

Proposed preamble

On the proposed language in the preamble, the proposals tabled by the EU and the six Latin American countries did not even mention the DWP. Instead, the two proposals chose to acknowledge Target 14.6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The EU proposal, for example, stated in the preamble: “Acknowledging the commitments established under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and notably UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,

“Acknowledging UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 target 6 which sets out that the signatories of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should by 2020 prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies,

“Acknowledging UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 target 4 which sets out that the signatories of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should by 2020 effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics,

“Recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing counties should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization’s fisheries subsidies negotiation,

“Recognizing that overcapacity contribution to overfishing constitutes a serious threat to the conservation and sustainable exploitation of living marine resources,

“Recognizing that the share of overfished stocks increased from 10% in 1974 to over 31% in 2013 and that this share is to be decreased,”

The six Latin American countries also made no mention of Doha in their proposed preamble to the agreement. They proposed: “Considering a growing consensus within the international community has been emerging on the need to act to prevent the harmful impacts of certain fisheries subsidies on sustainability of marine resources. That understanding was reflected in Paragraph 173 of the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, ‘The future we want’ and in the recent multilateral mandate of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, in which Heads of State and Government agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 14.6;

“Recognizing the urgent need to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and prohibit certain forms of subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity;

“Acknowledging that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed country Members should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation;

“Recalling that the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has developed relevant international plans of actions to address Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and overcapacity, as well as technical guidelines for responsible fisheries;

“Fulfilling the fisheries subsidies’ goals will be the most relevant WTO contribution to trade and environment, representing at the same time an important contribution to food security and development;

“agree to establish effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies as follows:”

In sharp opposition, the ACP Group said in their proposed text: “Recalling the mandate contained in the 2001 Doha Declaration, where Ministers agreed to clarify and improve WTO rules that apply to fisheries subsidies,

“Acknowledging the importance of the sector to development priorities, poverty reduction, livelihood, sustainable development of fisheries capacity throughout the value chain, and food security concerns of developing countries,

“Reaffirming our commitment under the 2030 Development Agenda to prohibit, by 2020, certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.”

During the meeting, several members – India, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Philippines, for example – said that the preamble must refer to the DWP and the WTO’s Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005 as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

Members also sharply differed during the meeting on the definitional issues pertaining to what would constitute IUU subsidies, including the issues of territorial jurisdiction, and other provisions, negotiators said.

Ambiguous

The US, which had all along taken a backseat during the negotiations, suddenly sprang up like Rip Van Winkle to issue an ambiguous message about the outcome it wants to see at Buenos Aires, said an African negotiator who asked not to be quoted.

The US remains fiercely opposed to any mention of Doha either in the fisheries subsidies agreement or in the Buenos Aires ministerial declaration, the negotiator said.

In response to overwhelming demand for sourcing the fisheries subsidies agreement to the DWP, the US asked members not to let potential stumbling blocks in the preamble get in the way of discussions on disciplines, said a trade negotiator who asked not to be quoted.

While remaining skeptical about a substantive agreement on fisheries subsidies at the Buenos Aires meeting, the US said members must aim for an agreement on transparency notifications.

The US said it remained open to members’ efforts for an agreement while raising concerns on the language on subsidies for disaster relief and territorial jurisdiction. The US also raised concerns on definitional issues concerning small-scale and artisanal fishing, according to another negotiator.

In sharp contrast, China, which had all along demanded a balanced outcome in the Doha rules negotiations covering fisheries subsidies and improvements in transparency and due process in anti-dumping and countervailing measures, expressed doubt as to whether any substantive agreement on fisheries subsidies is possible without a text.

China said that it welcomed text while cautioning that it would not be possible to stitch one during the next three months (before the Buenos Aires conference).

China suggested that the proponents had the responsibility for generating the text but the issue was who was going to table a text at this juncture, said another negotiator who asked not to be quoted.

Privately, the chair has conveyed to some members that he is not going to table any text on his own.

He said members must finalize the draft text. “We should make every hour count and keep our eyes forward, that way we could get to a text that looks like a chair’s text but properly owned by members,” McCook said. “That is the expectation.”

He urged members to accelerate discussions, saying “we need your inputs at this stage.” “There is less than three months to the completion of preparation for MC11 ... Time is going to be at a premium.”

Despite these reservations and differences, the proponents – New Zealand, the EU, Peru, Argentina and the ACP Group, among others – pressed for a substantive outcome for prohibiting subsidies for IUU fishing at the Buenos Aires meeting in December.

Korea and Japan suggested that the issues set out in the matrix are linked, such as special and differential treatment and assessments for fishing.

Members have a long, long way to go through all the proposals in the matrix and the next round of meetings towards the end of September will decide whether a draft text is possible by the time trade ministers from select countries gather for a so-called “mini-ministerial” meeting in Marrakesh on 9 October, said a negotiator from South America.

In crux, the developing countries have one last chance for ensuring the survival of the DWP, and if they fail to mention “Doha” in the face of opposition from the US and the EU, then Doha will be buried once and for all at Buenos Aires, said negotiators who asked not to be quoted. (SUNS8531)                         

Third World Economics, Issue No. 645, 16-31 July 2017, pp8-9


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