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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept19/05)
18 September 2019
Third World Network


Mere exchange of ideas in fisheries talks in absence of a chair

Published in SUNS #8978 dated 17 September 2019

Geneva, 16 Sep (D. Ravi Kanth) – The continued stalemate over the appointment of a chair for the Doha rules negotiating body at the World Trade Organization has led the facilitators and the negotiators merely to exchange ideas last week on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing and overcapacity, overfished stocks, and cross-cutting issues, trade envoys told the SUNS.

Members are required to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies by the end of this year under the WTO’s eleventh ministerial meeting mandate agreed in Buenos Aires in December 2017.

During the September cluster of meetings on fisheries subsidies last week, members made little progress on the four issues – IUU fishing, overfishing and overcapacity, overfished stocks, and cross-cutting issues – in the facilitator-led negotiations, said a trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

The WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, who is also the chair for the Doha Trade Negotiations Committee, goaded members on the first day of the meeting (9 September) to unlock the impasse on the appointment of the chair so as to accelerate the talks for finalizing the fisheries subsidies agreement by the end of the year.

Apparently, due to prior engagements, Azevedo did not chair the proceedings after the first day and handed over the charge to one of his deputies, Karl Braun, who allowed the four facilitators to hold discussions with members, the envoy said.

The stalemate over the appointment of the chair for the Doha rules negotiating body continued as the two sides – the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) and the Asian Group of Developing Countries – were unable to resolve their differences.

Members of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) are expected to indicate on Monday (16 September) whether they would stick with their current nominee Ambassador Alexandre Guido Lopes Parola of Brazil, who is being opposed by several members, or suggest a new candidate, said a South American trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

Depending upon the GRULAC’s choice, the Asian Group of Developing Countries are expected to indicate whether consensus is possible, said an Asian trade envoy, who asked not to be quoted.

In the absence of a chair, the four facilitators merely read out oral reports on Friday (13 September) about the specific ideas exchanged in their respective areas.

The four facilitators who are tasked with developing texts in the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations are: Ms Katherine Dellar of Australia for overfishing and overcapacity, Mr Gustavo Cunha Machala of Brazil for overfished stocks, Ms Benedict Fleischer from Norway for IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing, and Mr Faisal Saud Sulaiman al-nabhani from Oman for cross-cutting issues.

The European Union circulated a “possible consolidated vertical negotiating text” for negotiating disciplines to curb illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on 9 September.

Brussels maintained that all paragraphs in the three page consolidated vertical negotiating text are “bracketed”, implying there is no agreement among members on any of the commitments for curbing IUU fishing.

The EU, for example, maintained in brackets that “no Member shall grant or maintain subsidies within the meaning of Article 1.1 of the SCM Agreement that are specific within the meaning of Article 2 of the SCM Agreement, to a fishing vessel or operator [engaged in IUU fishing].”

The EU has suggested that “a fishing vessel or operator shall be considered to be engaged in IUU fishing” subject to certain criteria.

Although several issues concerning the IUU disciplines are yet to be negotiated among members, the EU has rushed to issue a draft on IUU fishing to help the facilitator and the WTO Secretariat, said a negotiator who asked not to be quoted.

Many developing countries have called for clarity on issues concerning proportionality, duration, transparency of determination procedures and of subsidy procedures.

In a proposal circulated on 14 June, India has called for special and differential treatment for unreported and unregulated fishing for developing countries, including least-developed countries, in their respective EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and the high seas.

India sought a transition period for UU (unregulated and unreported) fishing disciplines on subsidies for developing and least developed countries.

India also called for S&DT in disciplines concerning overfished stocks prohibitions, overfishing and overcapacity.

Part of the problem in arriving at credible disciplines for IUU fishing involves jurisdictional issues, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.

“Any disciplines on IUU [fishing] at the WTO must be consistent with the UN fish stocks agreement, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) provisions,” the negotiator said.

In her oral report on IUU fishing issued on Friday (13 September), the Norwegian facilitator merely indicated the consultations on definitions, the issue of specificity which is a cross-cutting issue, discussion on determination which includes who determines and how are determinations made on IUU fishing, and proportionality and duration of prohibition among others, the negotiator said.

As regards the disciplines for addressing overfishing and overcapacity, the central issue remains whether there should be capping as proposed by the US and several South American countries as well as some other controversial approaches, the negotiator said.

In short, the October cluster of meetings beginning on 7 October will clearly indicate whether members can reach an outcome on fisheries subsidies by the end of the year.

 


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