TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb18/08)
5 February 2018
Third World Network

WTO Members debate how to organise work on fisheries subsidies
Published in SUNS #8613 dated 2 February 2018

Geneva, 1 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - The WTO Negotiating Group on Rules, at its first meeting since the eleventh WTO ministerial conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires last December, discussed how to set about work towards adopting an agreement on fisheries subsidies by 2019.

According to trade officials, this came at an informal meeting of the Negotiating Group on 30 January 2018, with Members voicing their views on how soon to resume negotiations on the text of an agreement.

In their decision on fisheries subsidies (WT/MIN(17)/64), ministers at MC11 decided as follows:

"1. Building on the progress made since the 10th Ministerial Conference as reflected in documents TN/RL/W/ 274/Rev.2, RD/TN/RL/29/Rev.3, Members agree to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, with a view to adopting, by the Ministerial Conference in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU-fishing recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing country Members and least developed country Members should be an integral part of these negotiations.

"2. Members re-commit to implementation of existing notification obligations under Article 25.3 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures thus strengthening transparency with respect to fisheries subsidies."

At the informal meeting on 30 January, Members also discussed how to use the time while they wait for the appointment of a new Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules to replace outgoing Chair Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica.

According to trade officials, the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Xavier Carim of South Africa, is holding consultations on the appointment of the chairs of the various WTO bodies for 2018, as well as for the chairs of several negotiating groups.

During the discussions in the Negotiating Group on 30 January, the United States voiced the view that Members should take time first to gather and exchange information to better unlock previous impasses.

According to trade officials, the US said Members should avoid a situation where they revert immediately back to the "heavily-bracketed text" from last year and merely recite the same positions.

The US proposed that the WTO Secretariat work with other authorities in order to compile a list of vessels and operators that are determined to be engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, so as to better inform the negotiations.

The US further suggested the compilation of information on overfished stocks and fleet capacities. The US said that Members should also submit their fisheries subsidies notifications, share information on their determination processes on IUU fishing, and requirements or offers for technical assistance.

The US explained that it was not advocating for a pause, but rather an intensification of work to help make progress in the negotiations.

According to trade officials, China called on Members to "do homework" and research the differences and relationships among international laws and domestic practices in order to work out practical proposals.

According to China, time can also be taken to enhance capacity-building efforts, for example, helping countries that are less able to learn how to assess whether a certain subsidy has a negative effect on fish stocks or not.

Russia suggested that Members can hold technical meetings and workshops without delay. It pointed out that "the more we know about a problem, the better we can address it."

On the other hand, the European Union said that Members should immediately resume text-based discussions, particularly on issues where progress had been made in the run-up to MC11.

Before MC11, Members had managed to streamline various proposals into two documents to make choices of positions more apparent, thus simplifying the negotiations. The decision on fisheries subsidies at MC11 expressly instructs WTO Members to build on the progress made in the negotiations as reflected in these documents.

According to trade officials, the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, the Latin American Group, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador and Norway echoed this view.

Nevertheless, they also supported analytical work and technical sessions in order to gather more information to aid the negotiations.

The ACP Group, New Zealand, the Latin American Group, the EU, Indonesia, Iceland, Norway and Chile also called for having a calendar of negotiating rounds in advance so that capital-based authorities are able to better participate in the meetings.

"Today's discussion is encouraging in the manner Members intervened and seriously considered how to implement what ministers had instructed," said Ambassador McCook, in his final meeting as Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules.

According to trade officials, Ambassador McCook said he was stepping down following the end of his tour of duty as Jamaica's Permanent Representative to the WTO.

The Chair pointed to the ongoing conversation regarding the balance between the negotiating and dispute settlement functions of the WTO.

Ambassador McCook said the WTO's adjudication system needed to be informed of the latest understandings of what trading rules ought to be, something, he said, which relates to the mandate of the Negotiating Group on Rules.

Moreover, Members should also keep in mind sustainability objectives particularly as an additional "unique" mandate for the talks on fisheries subsidies which falls under this Negotiating Group.

The Chair said the ministerial decision at MC11 was clear in instructing delegates to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that covers all aspects mentioned in Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, and not just a partial interim agreement on IUU fishing, for example, as was the case in the run-up to MC11.

"Please understand what the ministers said to you," said Ambassador McCook. "While there is disappointment that there was no partial outcome at MC11, take it as an extreme call for and confidence in your abilities to really get it done right."

"You don't have a lot of time but you have enough," the Chair reminded Members.