WTO Members Search for Compromise as Text-Based Negotiations on Fishing Subsidies Continue

WTO members took up another set of fisheries subsidies issues at the 5-9 October cluster of meetings of the Negotiating Group on Rules, as drafting work continued on an agreement to curb harmful state support for fishing. New textual suggestions were made and next steps to help members find the middle ground among their positions were discussed.

Members focused on the following issues related to the draft consolidated text: a possible definition of “fish”; subsidies to address disasters; due process in determinations of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and what to do when territorial claims overlap. The Negotiating Group Chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, had introduced the draft text in June and members in July agreed to use it as the starting point for text-based work to develop new disciplines on fisheries subsidies to prohibit subsidies that go to IUU fishing or contribute to overfishing and overcapacity.

The chair reported the latest progress to heads of WTO delegations at the closing meeting of the week, where members also commented on how to further organize the negotiating process. The chair said he was encouraged by the constructive discussions and new textual suggestions. He noted, however, that progress was slow and he urged members to pick up the pace. To do that, he said they should not repeat well known negotiating positions and to find middle ground that met their needs, even it if was not their preference.

To this end, members are holding “intersessional” discussions in between the week-long clusters of meetings. Furthermore, a number of members asked the chair to prepare and circulate a revised version of his draft text, particularly as two of the four clusters of meetings scheduled for the last quarter of the year have already taken place. The next cluster of meetings will be held on 2-6 November.

At the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference, ministers agreed, consistent with UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, to secure an agreement in 2020 on disciplines eliminating subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries.