Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov18/14)
23 November 2018
Third World Network
South countries sharply concerned over role of IGs in fisheries
Published in SUNS #8798 dated 19 November 2018
Geneva, 16 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) - Several developing and least developed
countries remain sharply concerned over the controversial role of
the so-called Incubator Groups (IGs) in the ongoing Doha fisheries
subsidies negotiations at the World Trade Organization, particularly
the manner in which ideas are being floated and later discussed in
these groups in a non-transparent framework, trade negotiators told
During several meetings of the IGs since September, there is mounting
chaos due to lack of clarity and ownership of ideas that were discussed
for crafting disciplines for prohibiting harmful subsidies which are
contributing to overfishing and depletion of global fisheries stocks.
"There are lots of ideas during the meetings of the incubator
groups and we don't know who the proponents/ sponsors of these ideas
are and we don't know how these ideas will be incorporated into the
draft negotiating text," said a negotiator from a South American
country, who asked not to be identified.
In negotiations for crafting rules, members need transparency and
ownership of the ideas and proposals that are being discussed. But,
"a large majority of members are being kept in the dark about
the proponents and visiting delegations who are constantly floating
ideas in the IGs," the negotiator said.
"Members also do not know whether these are ideas floated by
any delegation or the Secretariat, which is playing a vital role in
the negotiations on fisheries subsidies," said another negotiator
who asked not to be identified.
The chair for the Doha rules negotiations, Ambassador Roberto Zapata
from Mexico, is expected to issue an important paper on the way forward
in the negotiations sometime next week.
Ahead of the issuance of the paper, Ambassador Zapata circulated two
restricted papers - TN/RL/30/Rev.2 and TN/RL/W/274/Rev6.
While the work program for September-December 2018 was issued early
this month (without any date), the revised sixth version of the draft
negotiating text was issued on 14 November.
In his 18-page report on the revised work program, the chair explained
that "a number of delegations called for text-based discussions
to be included in the work programme, and to reduce the profile in
the work program of the Incubator Groups, if retained, for example,
through inter-sessional work."
"Some delegations also queried whether the Incubator Groups,
if retained, could be made somewhat larger," the chair said,
pointing out that all four IGs have been retained.
The four IGs include members such as Colombia, St Lucia, Egypt, El
Salvador , India, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, and Thailand in the
first group; Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Iceland,
the Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela in the second group;
Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru , Russia, South Africa, Chinese
Taipei, Turkey, and the US in the third group; and Bangladesh, China,
Costa Rica, Ecuador, the European Union, Japan, Morocco, Oman, and
Vanuatu in the fourth group.
So far, ideas were floated in these four groups by the participants
as well as visiting members without formally owning those ideas.
For example, in the incubator group I, ideas were floated on "list
versus effects approach, or hybrid approach, for listing subsidies
and how specifically, lists and effects could be combined into a hybrid
Ideas were also floated in the first group on identifying harmful
subsidy effects; negative effects on fish stocks; effects on fishing
capacity; effects on fishing effort; and approaches to "positive"
or "non-harmful subsidies."
Similarly, ideas were also circulated at the meetings of the first
group on "recognition by a subsidizing member of IUU (illegal,
unreported, and unregulated fishing) determination, in respect of
one of its flagged vessels, made by a coastal state member."
Participants were asked "whether such a determination, once made
known to the subsidizing member, would automatically trigger a subsidy
prohibition; if not, what additional information or procedures would
be needed before the prohibition was triggered."
Members of the second incubator group discussed ideas such as regional
fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and "whether the disciplines
should make any distinctions among different RFMOs."
Participants of the third incubator group discussed "definition
of IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing)/standard for
IUU determination, and approaches to referring to different scales
of fishing activity (e.g. small-scale, artisanal, and industrial fishing).
Members of the fourth group discussed ideas concerning "distinguishing
in the disciplines capacity versus overcapacity, fishing activity
versus overfishing, and reach and coverage of IUU disciplines."
In the rules of operation for incubator groups and mode of engagement
by participants, the chair had suggested, among others, that "any
delegation wishing to submit ideas or suggestions to the Incubator
Group on an anonymous basis can do so through the Secretariat."
Consequently, there is lack of clarity and confusion whether ideas/suggestions
being proposed by the Secretariat belong to a delegation or the Secretariat.
Apparently, "participants in incubator groups as well as visiting
delegations" have floated ideas without being asked to own them
at the just-concluded meetings of the fisheries subsidies negotiating
Though a large majority of the WTO members are not involved in some
of the four IGs, they are being asked to consider ideas that have
been advanced by unidentified countries, which is causing a systemic
problem in the manner in which the fisheries subsidies negotiations
are being conducted, said a trade envoy who asked not to be identified.
Given the lack of participation of many developing and least-developed
countries, it is imperative that ideas which are brought for further
consideration must be owned by the respective "participants"
as well as "visiting delegations," the envoy suggested.
Members ought to know who are these visiting countries that are drawing
markers for establishing rules in the fisheries subsidies, said another
trade envoy who asked not to be identified.
"So far, there is complete opacity about the generation of ideas
in the incubator group and the manner in which some countries are
defending them without sharing any details," the envoy pointed
Further, the role of the Secretariat in preparing the draft texts
must be clarified so as to make progress in the negotiations next
year, otherwise, there will be massive opposition to issues that are
going to form part of the draft text.
The chair Ambassador Zapata issued a revised work program on Wednesday,
urging members to "submit to the Secretariat for distribution
to the Incubator Groups their inputs in bullet point format, along
with any comments," by November 22.
"When submitting them, delegations are kindly requested to indicate
whether any such written inputs can be circulated to Members along
with the Incubator Group reports," the chair said in his communication,
obtained by SUNS.
Under "nature and mix of activities" in his communication,
the chair said that "the Incubator Groups have been retained
as part of the draft work programme."
While "the Incubator Groups are not negotiating bodies,"
the ideas presented by unidentified members could surface in the draft
Clearly, there is a "negotiating chaos" in the ongoing fisheries
subsidies negotiations, which can only be redressed through transparency