TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May17/05)
5 May 2017
Third World Network
New proposal on fisheries to undermine S&DT flexibilities
Published in SUNS #8455 dated 4 May 2017
Geneva, 3 May (D. Ravi Kanth) -- Attempts to undermine special and differential
flexibilities for developing countries are being considered as part of the
disciplines for prohibiting fisheries subsidies that are being promoted as a
major deliverable for the World Trade Organization's eleventh ministerial
meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, rules negotiators told SUNS.
In a 7-page joint proposal, the three countries - New Zealand, Iceland, and
Pakistan - used the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target 14.6 as
a basis for finalizing comprehensive disciplines for prohibiting fisheries
"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," the sponsors argued.
A comprehensive agreement on disciplines for prohibiting fisheries subsidies,
according to the sponsors, is a sine qua non at the eleventh ministerial
meeting ostensibly to address "the marine environment and millions of
livelihoods that depend on healthy fish stocks," as well as for the
"Globalisation and the multilateral trading system are being questioned
more now than perhaps at any time in recent history," the sponsors argued
in their proposal, which is at the core of the US trade agenda.
Without itself tabling any concrete proposal on fisheries subsidies during the
recent phase of accelerated talks, the US nearly achieved its goals by getting
proposals tabled through several South American and other countries.
The US is prepared to address fisheries subsidies in the Doha rules
negotiations, but not improvements needed in trade remedies such as
anti-dumping and subsidies and countervailing measures, several negotiators
The sponsors include Pakistan that houses millions of people living below the
poverty line and facing a financial breakdown.
Surprisingly, they have ignored another major SDG goal, namely, "End
hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable
This SDG Goal 2 calls on countries to end hunger by 2030 and promote food
security by doubling the agricultural productivity and the incomes of
small-scale food producers, particularly women, indigenous family farmers and
equal access to land.
More important, the SDG Goal 2 also called for "correct[ing] and
preventing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets by
the parallel elimination of all forms of agricultural export subsidies and all
export measures with equivalent effect, in accordance with the mandate of the
Doha Development Agenda."
For inexplicable reasons, the WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo and a group
of industrialized and developing countries have ensured that the SDG target
14.6 trumped over the SDG Goal 2 during the current phase of preparations for
the Buenos Aires meeting, said several trade envoys from African, Asian, and
South American countries.
"The Nairobi decision for eliminating export subsidies without eliminating
the export credits and food aid provided by the US is meaningless," said a
trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.
Against this backdrop, the three sponsors on prohibited fisheries subsidies
have listed several elements such as "effective prohibitions",
"appropriate and effective special and differential treatment",
"transitional arrangements", "standstill provision[s]",
"anti-circumvention" and "transparency, monitoring and review
The proposed disciplines on "prohibitions" include:
(i) subsidies provided to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing;
(ii) subsidies to fishing activities where stocks are not assessed or are
assessed as being overfished; and
(iii) subsidies provided to fishing activities on the high seas and in the
waters of another Member.
These three prohibitions, the proponents argued, "would apply to all
specific subsidies of all Members" and "Members would not be able to
introduce any new subsidies in these areas or maintain existing subsidies
beyond a specified limited transitional period."
Further, "all specific fisheries subsidies not subject to new prohibitions
would remain actionable under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing
The three sponsors justified their proposed prohibitions for addressing the
Without naming China, which is being portrayed as the major provider of
subsidies for IUU fishing, the sponsors argued that "the IUU related
prohibitions draw on submissions to date, including those of the EU and Japan
which make the case for a subsidy prohibition based on existing IUU vessel
lists in the same manner as port entry is denied to IUU vessels under the FAO
Port State Measures Agreement."
Further, "states already have obligations to assess stocks and ensure they
are at or above sustainable levels, therefore such a prohibition would support
these existing commitments and would not require any giving up of policy
space," the sponsors argued, without explaining how the policy space would
As regards the "Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) needs",
the three proponents said S&DT has "to be proportional to, and
appropriate for, the disciplines and not undermine their effectiveness."
"The three proposed prohibitions should apply equally to all subsidies
from all Members," the sponsors argued, maintaining that "it would
not be appropriate to accord S&DT on these prohibitions."
"S&DT for developing Members, in particular for Least Developed Countries
(LDCs), may however be appropriate in the context of additional prohibitions,
the transparency provisions or the transitional arrangements, including
targeted capacity building," the sponsors suggested.
For countries that have these subsidies, "a limited transitional
arrangement is proposed to provide Members until 2020 to bring their programmes
into conformity with the new prohibitions," the sponsors maintained.
But, for China which is being targeted most in the proposed disciplines, the
proponents said "in the case of prohibited subsidies provided to IUU
fishing, it would seem inappropriate to provide a transitional period."
Using SDG Target 14.6 that includes a standstill commitment, the sponsors said,
"unless comprehensive prohibitions are established on all forms of
fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing it would
seem prudent to include a standstill commitment using language similar to that
adopted at Rio+20 (to refrain from introducing new subsidies that contribute to
overcapacity and overfishing or from extending or enhancing existing ones)
which was reaffirmed by the 2030 Agenda (paragraph 11)."
"It is therefore proposed to establish and monitor a standstill commitment
in the WTO that covers all subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and
overfishing not covered by the prohibitions," the proponents maintained.
The proposed disciplines include language on anti-circumvention.
It says "an additional discipline would be necessary to clarify that the
new disciplines are attributable to the Member conferring them, regardless of
recipient nationality, vessel flag, or the rule of origin" so to ensure
that there is no circumvention.
In a room document circulated on 2 May, the ACP (African, Caribbean, and
Pacific) group sought to know "what forms and types of S&DT are
developed country members willing to provide to developing and least developed
countries in coastal and island states to implement disciplines and comply with
The ACP also questioned "a link or conditionality [that] has been placed
on developing countries' access to and having effective fish management regimes
and plans in place."
The ACP group asked "is this a price or cost to be paid for S&DT and
are developed countries willing to commit to provide technical assistance and
capacity building including financial assistance to enable developing countries
and LDCs to manage and effectively monitor and regulate their fishing
It also sought to know whether there should be a moratorium on disputes against
developing countries and LDCs for a period of the transition period.
On behalf of the least-developed countries, Cambodia raised several issues
concerning "artisanal and small scale fisheries", especially whether
there will be a carveout, and flexibility for disciplines to allow subsidies
exclusively for domestic fish stocks occurring only in economic exclusive
In short, efforts to finalize a standalone agreement on fisheries subsidies are
being stepped up while ignoring other issues in the Doha rules dossier, several
trade envoys told SUNS. +