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
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
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.