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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept20/13)
16 September 2020
Third World Network


COVID-19: Concerns over limited resources to participate in fisheries talks
Published in SUNS #9190 dated 16 September 2020

Washington DC, 15 Sep (D. Ravi Kanth) – Several developing countries have highlighted their limited negotiating resources to participate fully in the Doha fisheries subsidies negotiations at the World Trade Organization, suggesting that the current Covid-19 health crisis has made it difficult for the effective participation of their capital-based officials.

Trade envoys and officials from developing countries also suggested shifting the deadline for concluding the negotiations to next year due to the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis, according to the statements issued by them.

At a heads of delegation (HoD) meeting on 14 September, held in a hybrid format involving physical presence as well as on the virtual platform, trade envoys from developing countries cautioned the chair of the Rules negotiating group over accelerating the negotiations at a time when capital-based officials are unable to participate due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the statements issued by several developing countries, the chair of the Doha fisheries subsidies negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, was informed that it would not be proper to accelerate the negotiations for concluding an agreement on fisheries subsidies by the end of the year due to the continued restrictions imposed on travel and other health-related grounds.

Although members agreed on the importance of complying with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, differing views were expressed at the meeting on the timelines for concluding the talks at this juncture, said a person, who spoke to the SUNS after the meeting.

As per the United Nations SDG Goal 14.6, countries had agreed to “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.”

Several developed countries, including the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom, as well as their developing country allies such as Brazil, Egypt and the Philippines among others signaled their intention to conclude the negotiations by the end of the year.

The US said it is ready to wrap-up the negotiations by the end of the year if others are willing to do the same, the participant suggested.

Despite being aware of the worsening Covid-19 health crisis, the EU suggested that Brussels is prepared to do what is required for concluding a fisheries subsidies agreement by the end of the year, a stance shared by Japan and other developed countries.

A Chinese trade official said that Beijing would support the chair’s plan for future work on fisheries subsidies negotiations, adding that it “believes a Friend-of-Chair approach is both necessary and practical.”

China also emphasized the need to remove the placeholders so as to ensure that the chair’s draft consolidated text is complete as soon as possible, so that “by the end of this year, we should be able to make breakthroughs on key pillars and have a complete text at the same time.”

Several developing countries – Indonesia, Namibia, and Panama – had suggested that the membership should keep in mind that COVID-19 cases continue to increase worldwide which can make coordination with capital-based authorities difficult.

Indonesia highlighted the difficulties of internal coordination due to the Covid-19, and suggested that timelines should be adjusted by taking the Covid-19 lockdown conditions into consideration.

Indonesia said that the fisheries subsidies negotiations must remain consistent with the UN SDG Goal 14.6, suggesting that all issues concerning the mandate must be addressed, according to the Indonesian statement made at the meeting.

Jakarta warned that the chair’s draft consolidated text issued in July “must not undermine members’ proposals,” pointing out that many of its proposals made during the fisheries subsidies negotiations were not included in the draft text.

Indonesia urged the chair to revisit all the proposals made by members.

At the last heads of delegation meeting in July before the summer break in August, India and Sri Lanka had suggested that it would be prudent to consider 2021 as the deadline for concluding the fisheries subsidies agreement.

On behalf of the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) group, Vanuatu said on 14 September that many of its members “remain not prepared to jeopardize their safety by entering this building and continuing negotiations as though nothing is before us on Covid-19.”

Vanuatu said the current cluster of negotiations “will be a challenging one as we navigate around CR (Committee Room) and virtual means of interacting.”

“We must not be remiss in taking into account that Covid-19 is not over and cases increase,” the ACP group warned.

The ACP group said that it will engage in “bilaterals virtually with Members this week and focus on the key areas you (the chair) have outlined regarding Article 5 and Article 8 of your draft, but also those of particular concern to our Members.”

The ACP group asked the chair Ambassador Wills to “ensure that your choice of FOC (Friends of the Chair) will adhere to the rules of this house to observe transparency, inclusivity and consensus-based approaches.”

“The FOC (Friends of the Chair) should be more neutral in these negotiations and not (be) one of the proponents of texts,” the ACP group emphasized.

Vanuatu reminded the chair that the “draft consolidation from you is itself bracketed and without prejudice to Members’ text proposals. Some of our interests are not yet reflected and we expect that our text suggestions will be inserted into the consolidated draft.”

On behalf of the African Group, Botswana raised seven points regarding the draft consolidated text and how the negotiations must be conducted this week. The points include:

* Firstly, the consolidated text is without prejudice to the positions of Members.

* Secondly, in view of the outstanding work – given that the text is incomplete, with brackets and placeholders – and the need to progress these negotiations in an efficient manner, it is important to move to text-based negotiations. This will provide an opportunity for delegations to introduce any textual language that reflects their positions, bearing in mind the need for flexibility and pragmatism to build consensus.

* Thirdly, while members of the African Group remain flexible to the Chair introducing amendments to the draft consolidated text in terms of legal scrubbing, “we wish to underline that the African Group has already started working on the substantive elements of the consolidated text and will bring textual proposals in line with its positions.”

* In addition, the pace of negotiations has to take into account the challenges faced by many delegations and capitals relating to COVID-19. The outcome should therefore be based on progress made in the negotiations rather than artificial deadlines.

* Fourthly and in the same vein, the African Group sought “clarification on the value-added of going back to the Facilitators’ reports, and discussions we already had in Plenaries and Small Group sessions in the past as well as the implications thereof, on the text-based negotiations.”

* Fifthly, “regarding the areas where there is no text or where we have placeholders, we hold the view that delegations should be free to propose language as necessary in order to fill the gaps.”

* Sixthly, in relation to the possibility to have Friends of the Chair and the continuation of the Facilitators’ support, “we remain flexible as long as the scope and modalities of those facilitations are discussed and determined in a transparent and inclusive way.”

* Furthermore, the Friends of the Chair should, if considered, be selected carefully and should be representative of the diversity of the WTO membership and the diverse interests in relation to the fisheries negotiations.

* Seventh, the core objective should be to work towards a text that delivers on the mandate, is development- centred and is targeted to disciplining fisheries subsidies that negatively contribute to the sustainability of our fisheries.

The African Group suggested that all issues in the draft text remain “inter-related” and must not be addressed in isolation.

South Africa said that the pace of the negotiations should consider the situation of capital-based officials in attending the meetings, while Nigeria said that a good outcome is better than just meeting any deadline.

 


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