WWF support of the Friends of Fish Ministerial Statement
WWF International`s Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director, Conservation, made the following statement in support of the Friends of Fish governments, a group of developed and developing countries pushing for the elimination of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing:
"On behalf of WWF and our more than five million members worldwide, along with our global network of conservation scientists and solutions-oriented policy advocates, we would like to thank the Friends of Fish governments for their steadfast commitment and leadership on the critical issue of fisheries subsidies.
"Over the past ten years, and even longer in the case of the earliest Friends of Fish whose involvement dates back to the Seattle ministerial of 1999, we have had numerous occasions to recognize the vision and leadership of these governments.
"WWF especially welcomes the assurance that these governments will continue seeking occasions for us to thank them in the future. We applaud their call for continuing the pursuit of binding international rules to end subsidised overfishing without delay.
"Despite the frustrations, WWF remains optimistic that we will be able to applaud success in this pursuit not too many years from now.
"Even as the Doha Round enters what appears to be an indefinite period of hibernation, it is important to recall the significance of the fisheries subsidies debate, and to focus clearly on the meaning of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved so far. For WWF, these involve three key elements:
- The problem of fisheries subsidies is one that will not go away, and cannot wait for the resurrection of the Doha Round for effective solutions. The good news is that fisheries subsidies is no longer a nearly invisible issue, as it was when the Doha Round was launched ten years ago. The need to end subsidised overfishing is widely recognized as an urgent prerequisite to reversing decades of irresponsible fishing and unsustainable growth of fishing fleets. A growing list of governments is starting to look seriously at fisheries subsidies reforms on a unilateral basis. WWF calls on all governments to undertake national level reforms even as they continue to seek opportunities to fulfill the ambitions of the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial to achieve binding prohibitions on subsidies that contribute to overfishing.
- The progress that was achieved at the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiating table should not be underestimated. In recent months, it became fashionable among some parties to focus their rhetoric on the substantial divisions remaining within the fisheries subsidies talks. But the deeper story is how much agreement was in fact achieved among all but a very few governments about the goals of the talks and the basic tools for reaching them. In 2001, it was hard to imagine that environmental criteria could be accepted as a basis for determining legal rights under WTO rules. But that concept became a cornerstone of the fisheries subsidies talks, and was one introduced into the debate by leading developing countries themselves. This was nothing less than a quiet revolution in how trade in natural resources can be discussed at the WTO. Unlike the Round as a whole, the fisheries subsidies talks did not seem destined to fail, but rather made steady and fundamental progress across the years. The history of the talks shows that WTO disciplines against perverse natural resource subsidies can be constructively negotiated at the WTO. It can be done, and in fact it nearly was done.
- The progress achieved within the fisheries subsidies talks should be seen as a guidepost for the eventual rejuvenation of the Doha Development Agenda or its successors at the WTO. The moment in history has passed when governments were willing to accept trade liberalization as an end purely in itself. If the collapse of the Doha Round teaches anything, it teaches that future trade deals must be reliably linked to achieving basic public goals. The two most compelling frameworks for orienting future WTO negotiations are equity and sustainability. Many leading trade policy thinkers understand this very clearly. In a world that is already consuming critical resources at frighteningly unsustainable rates, the economic health of our planet will increasingly depend on how we deal with resource scarcity and climate change. The WTO must develop and demonstrate its ability to continue negotiations in the mode of the fisheries subsidies talks—to complete those talks and to extend their example to other natural resource sectors.
"Trade policies will continue to matter deeply to how we use or abuse our natural world, and our willingness to confront the link between trade and sustainable commerce will increasingly determine the success and the political viability of our trade policies.
"The fisheries subsidies issue will remain a key example and opportunity to get the answers right. We can, and we must, act to secure healthy oceans and sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people. But even more broadly, we can and we must rebuild progress towards improved multilateral trade policies by placing equity and sustainability at the core of the WTO’s future agenda."