WTO members voiced their views on the outcomes they would like to see from the second wave of fisheries subsidies negotiations in meetings during the first of a series of “Fish Weeks” held on 20-24 March.
The meetings pave the way for deeper discussions next month on the best approaches for curbing subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing. The chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, said members engaged with a positive spirit to lay down the foundation for coming to an agreement by the 13th Ministerial Conference scheduled for February 2024.
“I think it was a very successful first Fish Week,” Ambassador Gunnarsson said at the close of the week, speaking at a meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules attended by heads of WTO delegations. “It has been illuminating to listen to members. I noticed members’ positive spirit and the willingness to understand each other.”
“I have seen this first week as devoted to discussing what we want to get out of this second wave of negotiations. As the next logical step, I see our second Fish Week in April as the beginning of our discussions of how to get to the result we want,” he said.
Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard welcomed members’ engagement. “I thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation and their constructive spirit throughout this week. I’m gratified that members appreciated the process and transparency that was used this week. I’m also glad members took the opportunity to exchange views among themselves. We clearly had a very thorough discussion on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and now we need to begin on the ‘how.'”
The chair said he conducted numerous bilateral consultations, along with four small group meetings which were open for listening mode to those not invited as speakers, and two plenary meetings for the whole membership.
Members recognized that ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks is the shared objective. Members also noted the significance of all three dimensions of sustainability, namely environmental, social and economic. Against this background, the chair said there is a widely held view that the disciplines concerning overcapacity and overfishing should focus on the most harmful subsidies. One recurring theme was subsidies provided to large-scale industrial fishing. Members also debated the relevance of concepts such as the Polluter Pays Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility.
Members also acknowledged that special and differential treatment (SDT) is an integral part of the negotiations. There was a general call to safeguard the livelihood and food security of small-scale and artisanal fishers. The chair noted that some members see SDT as the means to help developing and LDC members comply with substantive disciplines, while others are of the view that SDT should provide such members with policy space to develop their fishing sectors. Many members stated that they do not seek policy space to pursue subsidies that undermine sustainability.
As for the chair’s consultations with members on setting up the Committee on Fisheries Subsidies, delegations considered it important for this technical work to start early so that members will be well-prepared when the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, which was adopted at MC12 in June 2022, enters into force. The chair said he will continue to reflect on the appropriate modalities for this work. Formal acceptances from two-thirds of WTO members are needed for the Agreement to come into effect.
Many delegations reported that they are optimistic about depositing their acceptance of the Agreement soon. Many other members noted that they expect to make donations to the WTO Fisheries Funding Mechanism very soon to help developing and LDC members meet their obligations.
The second Fish Week will be held on 25-28 April.
The chair said that while it would be most productive to maintain a conceptual focus for the meetings, it could be helpful for members to have, as a reference, a list of elements from the previous negotiations that were not reflected in the Agreement adopted at MC12. He encouraged members considering new formulations to bring them to the table soon to inform the discussions in April.
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