TWN 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 talks
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 SUNS.

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 approach."

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 group.

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 out.

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 text.

Clearly, there is a "negotiating chaos" in the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations, which can only be redressed through transparency and ownership.