TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar17/11)
8 March 2017
Third World Network

Rules Chair to hold focused sessions on fisheries subsidies
Published in SUNS #8415 dated 6 March 2017

Geneva, 3 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - The Chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules has informed members that he plans to hold focused sessions on specific substantive issues in relation to disciplines on fisheries subsidies.

At an informal open-ended meeting on 1 March dedicated to fisheries subsidies, the Chair, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, said that the plan to hold focused sessions was based on his consultations and also on what he heard from members at the informal meeting on 1 March.

The focused sessions would be on specific substantive issues that were discussed during his consultations and where further progress was needed.

In tandem, the Chair said that he will also organise more general meetings of the Negotiating Group.

According to trade officials, the Chair said he expected a "2:1" approach where two focused sessions would be held for every meeting of the Negotiating Group.

The issues that were taken up in the consultations are expected to be addressed in the focused discussions.

These include:

* what sort of subsidies should be ipso facto prohibited;

* what role, if any, regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) and/or fisheries management systems should have in any package of disciplines;

* how to define subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fishing and what subsidy disciplines should apply to these activities; and

* how an agreement on fisheries subsidies could address future development needs in developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs).

Ambassador McCook also informed members that he would start work on scheduling these meetings, and that he intends to proceed in a bottom-up manner with full transparency.

All WTO Members would be invited to participate in all of these meetings.

The Chair further said he would proceed with his suggestion of organising information sessions for the members on the role played by RFMOs in fisheries management.

Representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would be invited.

The FAO would also be asked to invite several representatives from RFMOs to speak.


According to trade officials, on 1 March, the Chair gave an extensive readout of his recent consultations with the members on advancing the negotiations on fisheries subsidies.

The chair said that he detected a "great willingness to continue and deepen engagement" on the issue of fisheries subsidies.

"Importantly, no delegation that came to see me raised any objections to continuing and intensifying our ongoing work in this area; to the contrary, all indicated a commitment to remaining constructively engaged. Nor did any delegation raise linkages with any other issue, inside or outside of the Rules area in a strict manner."

"This heartens me very much," said Ambassador McCook.

"These are essential enabling conditions for us to complete the necessary work in the available time, such that we could submit a Minister-ready draft outcome for MC11, if that is the wish of Members at the end of our process," he added.

The Chair then reported on the substantive issues raised.

According to Ambassador McCook, "almost all" members broadly indicated that subsidies benefiting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing should be prohibited, in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Most who identified this potential area for prohibition said that there should be no exceptions.

Many delegations also identified subsidies adversely affecting fisheries in an over-fished condition as warranting an across-the-board prohibition without exceptions.

He said some Members also identified subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing as warranting prohibition.

Some delegations considered that the immediate goal of the current work should be to agree to prohibitions on subsidies to IUU fishing and in respect of over-fished stocks.

They emphasized, however, that this should not be the end of the story, and that any outcome should include a programme of further work to discipline additional subsidies contributing to overcapacity and over-fishing.

Most Members recognized that if new disciplines prohibit subsidies to IUU fishing, or subsidies where stocks are over-fished, there would be a need to find benchmarks to identify the cases of IUU fishing or over-fished stocks, as this is what would trigger the prohibition.

In this context, many delegations referred to IUU vessel lists maintained by RFMOs and national authorities as a possible basis for determining the specific situations where an IUU-related subsidy prohibition would apply.

The Chair said while some delegations considered that fisheries management as such should be the core of the subsidies disciplines, many delegations recalled that the WTO is a trade organization, not a fisheries management organization, and emphasised that members must remain focused on the subsidization part of the sustainable fisheries issue, and not try to resolve the entire issue.

Some delegations said subsidy disciplines should apply only in areas outside a subsidizing Member's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and in respect of fisheries not subject to management by RFMOs.

Others considered that such a limitation would be insufficient, noting problems of over-fishing within EEZs, and species with ranges going beyond a single EEZ.

Some noted in particular the high seas areas where no one is responsible for management.

Ambassador McCook said that a wide range of views was expressed on what should be considered subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fishing, and whether and how subsidies to such activities should be treated in eventual disciplines.

Some delegations considered that focusing on these or any other particular categories of fishing activities would be inappropriate.

In contrast, some delegations strongly advocated specific flexibilities for subsidies to some or all of these types of activities.

Delegations noted that there are no universally accepted definitions that WTO members could simply copy-paste.

Some delegations made particular reference to potential flexibilities for LDC members, as distinct from other developing members.

On how disciplines might address the future needs of developing and LDC Members that lack commercial fishing capacity to develop their fishing sectors, no delegation challenged the legitimacy of the expressed need for this kind of policy space.

However, many delegations highlighted the importance of ensuring that such flexibilities do not undermine achieving the core sustainability objective of this negotiation.

A large number of delegations encouraged the Chair to commence an intensified process of discussions centred on specific issues or questions, moving away from the specific proposals put forward by members to date.

Some requested the Chair to establish a timetable for work through to the summer break, while many delegations indicated the need to have in hand, by the summer break, a consolidated document which could serve as the basis for further negotiations, he said.

Commenting on the Chair's readout, the European Union said members need an outcome on fisheries subsidies at MC11, and they needed to intensify discussions.

According to trade officials, Dominica, on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, said that members need a clear idea by the summer break, as reflected in a single text, on what the "landing zones" for MC11 would be.

The ACP highlighted the importance of maintaining policy space to develop their fisheries sectors.

Senegal, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDC), said any prohibition on subsidies for IUU fishing should be applied to all members without condition.

However, given the limited capacity of the LDCs, technical assistance, transition periods and a carve-out from disciplines on capacity of fishing fleets would be needed.

Australia said that the focus should be on banning subsidies for IUU fishing and over-fished stocks.

New Zealand said that the ultimate objective was an MC11 deliverable.

According to trade officials, Iceland said it was heartened by members' engagement on the issue and that there was growing momentum to achieve a result at MC11.

El Salvador said artisanal fishing should not be subject to disciplines because of its small scale.

Vanuatu pointed to the significance of the fisheries sector for livelihood and economic development and the need for meaningful policy space and special and differential (S&D) treatment in any MC11 outcome.

According to trade officials, the Philippines, Chile, Honduras, India, Brazil and Norway endorsed the Chair's plans for moving the negotiations forward.

Several stressed the need to intensify the negotiations.


Meanwhile, Japan tabled a paper (a room document) on the role played by RFMOs and national fisheries management authorities in maintaining fisheries resources.

Japan said that it recognizes that the roles of RFMOs and national fisheries management authorities/systems are one of the key elements to be incorporated in developing fisheries subsidies disciplines in the WTO.

As an example, Japan referred to the practices of resource management of bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).

The Commission, on the basis of scientific evidence, develops conservation and management measures designed to maintain the populations of tuna and tuna-like fish that may be caught in the ICCAT Convention area at levels which will permit the maximum sustainable catch (ICCAT Convention Article 8), it said.

According to Japan, under the condition that proper conservation and management measures are implemented, as shown by ICCAT experiences, there would be no rationale toward the achievement of the SDGs Target 14.6, to apply prohibition of fisheries subsidies to:

(1) fishing activities properly managed by RFMO and national fisheries management authorities on the high seas; and

(2) fishing activities properly managed by national fisheries management authorities of coastal states within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

[SDG Target 14.6 states: 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, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation.]

Japan said it is relevant for the WTO to prohibit subsidies to any fishing vessel while listed by a relevant RFMO as engaged in IUU fishing in order to eliminate IUU fishing activities since the IUU fishing has a detrimental effect upon fish stocks, marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of legitimate fishers.

According to trade officials, Korea, welcoming the Japanese paper, said that fisheries management systems could play an important role in complementing subsidy disciplines.

Chinese Taipei said if members intend to deal with the most harmful fisheries subsidies, the involvement of RFMOs would be essential in identifying targets.

However, other members were of the view that the WTO should keep its focus on fisheries subsidies, where it has a mandate to adopt disciplines, and not stray into the issue of fisheries management, which was outside its field of competence.

The Philippines said fisheries management is important but that the WTO should not be turned into a fisheries management organization or be asked to judge the legal status of such organizations.

According to trade officials, Brazil said that the Japanese paper was based on an "ideal world" where fisheries management arrangements work perfectly, which was not the case, thus underlining the need for prohibitions.

Haiti and Iceland agreed that the WTO should not get involved in fisheries management.