TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Dec20/02)
1 December 2020
Third World Network

Concerns over Chair’s questions on structure of S&DT in fisheries
Published in SUNS #9244 dated 1 December 2020

Geneva, 30 Nov (D. Ravi Kanth) – The developing countries have appeared to express alarm over the questions posed by the chair of the Doha Rules negotiating body on how special and differential treatment (S&DT) needs to be structured to address the sustainability objective of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, as the questions seem to benefit the developed countries that continue to engage in industrial-scale fishing, negotiators told the SUNS.

At a day-long technical meeting convened by the “friend of the chair” on S&DT, Ambassador Didier Chambovey from Switzerland on 27 November, negotiators from the developing countries expressed several concerns, indicating that certain suggestions such as the “needs-based” approach are aimed at undermining S&DT for developing countries, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.

The “needs-based” approach appears to be mooted under the pretext of ensuring the sustainability objective as proposed by the developed countries like Canada and the European Union among others, the negotiator said.

After the meeting at the technical level on 27 November, the chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, issued a set of questions on how to structure S&DT so as to ensure the sustainability goal of the fisheries negotiations.

In his email sent to heads of delegation (HoD) on late 27 November evening, the chair said “important question that emerged from the discussions (convened by Ambassador Chambovey on the same day) is how special and differential treatment flexibilities can be structured to ensure that they are consistent with the sustainability objective of the negotiations.”

“To assist consideration, Ambassador Chambovey and I have noted, and we have often been reminded, that the mandate in SDG 14.6 and MC11 recognizes 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,” the chair said in his email.

“While there have been different interpretations of “appropriate and effective”, it may be recalled that this language is used in the context of the SDGs, and no delegation has suggested that it would like to use subsidies that would undermine sustainability by contributing to overcapacity or overfishing,” the chair argued.

Several developing countries had already pointed out to the chair that the sustainability goal was being undermined due to “overcapacity and overfishing” by the developed countries with their huge fleets of boats that engage in industrial-scale fishing, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.

The negotiators from developing countries further argued that their small-scale artisanal fishing is in no way responsible for the depletion of global fish stocks, the negotiator said.

Yet, the chair’s email seems to suggest that artisanal fishing, with a limited number of boats, are causing overcapacity and overfishing and that developing countries should not provide subsidies to develop their fishing, the negotiator said.

“In this regard,” the chair said, “in proposals as well as in statements made during our various meetings, some delegations have indicated a need for flexibility to use subsidies that would otherwise be prohibited.”

Further, “Ambassador Chambovey and I are not asking about the justifications or the objectives for using these subsidies, rather, we would like to hear your views on how to ensure in the S&DT provisions that using such otherwise prohibited subsidies would not contribute to unsustainable fishing now or at some point in the future,” Ambassador Wills said in his email.

The chair said that “concerning transition periods, several delegations have stated that they would need them under each pillar for a variety of reasons, including the time needed to adjust laws and take other steps needed to implement the disciplines.”

Without naming the developed countries, the chair said that “others have stated that they could envisage short transition periods that would be limited to one or two pillars.”

“Given that the objective of a transition period is to allow a limited period of time to implement obligations, what transition periods might be considered to be appropriate and under which pillars,” the chair said.

The chair’s questions are expected to be discussed at the 1-3 December cluster of meetings at the level of heads of delegation, according to an earlier email sent by the chair (see SUNS #9240 dated 25 November 2020).


On the day-long meeting of technical experts and negotiators on S&DT on 27 November, sharp differences emerged between the developing countries on the one side, and the developed countries on the other, over the interpretation of appropriate and effective S&DT for developing countries under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

The UN SDG 14.6 amongst others unambiguously calls for “appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries”, and that the S&DT “should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.”

At the meeting, several developing countries allegedly charged Canada and other industrialized countries for seeking to retain special flexibilities for their industrial-scale fishing under the pretext of the “sustainability” criteria, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.

The “friend of the chair” of the Doha fisheries subsidies negotiations on S&DT, Ambassador Didier Chambovey from Switzerland, provided an account of his consultations, suggesting that members remain far apart on S&DT, the negotiator said.

Ambassador Chambovey apparently suggested the “needs-based” approach for availing of S&DT among developing countries, which faced a strong push-back from several developing countries at the meeting, the negotiator suggested.

Although Ambassador Chambovey did not indicate the proponents of the “needs-based” approach, several developing countries sought to know as to where this idea is coming from, the negotiator said.

The “needs-based” approach, the negotiator said, is diametrically opposed to the mandate in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, which calls for “appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries”, and that S&DT “should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.”

The meeting witnessed sharp exchanges with the friend-of-the chair, said another negotiator, who asked not to be identified.

An African delegate told Ambassador Chambovey that he wants to take the floor many times for talking to his counterparts, suggesting that he is not discussing with the chair, the negotiator said.

Ambassador Chambovey apparently suggested that the developed countries are unlikely to agree to the demands from the developing countries on S&DT except for transitional periods, the negotiator said.

Several developing country negotiators suggested that if the developed countries are pressing for reverse S&DT, then they will have to take enhanced obligations, the negotiator pointed out.

During the day-long discussion, Canada said that the S&DT must be a needs-based framework for ensuring sustainability, the negotiator said.

In sharp response, the African Group showed several slides of the subsidies given by the industrialized countries, whose industrial-scale fishing had depleted global fish stocks, and the livelihood fishing activities by developing countries for ensuring sustainability.

In one slide presented at the meeting, data provided by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that while Canada has around 1,800 large vessels for fishing, a developing country like Cameroon has about 9 or 10, revealing the huge disparities in the industrial-scale fishing by industrialized countries and developing countries, the negotiator said.

“We are not going to be bullied, and we have had enough of this hypocrisy,” the negotiator said, suggesting that the developed countries want to keep their big boats while they want us to take away our small boats from fishing.

Canada, however, did not respond to the slide at the meeting, the negotiator said.


According to an Asian negotiator, who asked not to be quoted, fish production by countries like India and Indonesia among others are very low. India’s marine capture, which is seventh in the world, is around 3.6 million annually.

The friend of the chair suggested that, according to the figures provided by the FAO, members accounted for 34% of the overfished stocks, the negotiator said.

India sought to know from the chair as to who is responsible for this grim situation, suggesting that the chair had earlier suggested that large-scale fleets are engaging in this fishing, the negotiator said.

India said that it would need territorial exclusion. It has circulated a restricted room document on 27 November on Article 10 on dispute settlement.

In the proposed draft text, India stated that “a panel shall not review claims regarding a coastal member’s determination made concerning IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing, overfished stocks, and overfishing and overcapacity in respect of fishing and fishing activities conducted by its own fishing vessels in its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.”

India also conveyed to the chair that Ecuador’s proposal, which has a lot of support from members according to the chair, should not be confused as S&DT for developing countries, the negotiator added.

The US, which intervened late in the meeting, asked why members should spend considerable time on S&DT without knowing the disciplines in other areas, particularly OCOF (overcapacity and overfishing).

The EU, which seems to support the “needs-based” approach, said that it would favour a very narrow level of flexibilities, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.

In short, the coming two weeks are likely to indicate whether the developing countries would retain robust S&DT or be forced to forego credible and effective S&DT under the name of sustainability, the negotiator said.