Failure to reach agreement on fisheries subsidies at WTO “a huge missed opportunity” — WWF

Posted on March, 01 2024

The World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference concluded after a week of negotiations between its 166 members in the United Arab Emirates with no major agreement on harmful fisheries subsidies.
The talks hoped to build on a June 2022 Fisheries Subsidies Agreement that dealt with the most egregious subsidies – such as for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; overfished stocks with no management measures in place and for unregulated high seas fisheries outside of national waters. Part 1 of the agreement will only enter into force however, once 110 WTO members have ratified this - with the number currently standing at 71. The broader additional rules aimed to address subsidies that contribute to overcapacity (too many vessels fishing the same stocks) and overfishing more generally. 

“We’re honestly exasperated by the outcome. This should have been the moment when the world woke up to the fact that if we continue this foolish race to catch the last fish there will be no winners. We will all be losers,” said Anna Holl-Buhl, WWF’s Global Lead for the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations. “This is a huge missed opportunity to end harmful subsidies for overfishing that are threatening the health and well-being of billions of people worldwide who rely on fisheries for their nutrition and livelihoods.”

Talks looked promising at the start of the week, when a text was put forward for negotiations that was more ambitious than what was on the table two years ago. The Pacific Island nations including Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, frustrated by the loopholes still remaining in the text for some large subsidizers, brought forward an old position calling, among other things, for an outright cap on fisheries subsidies.

This prompted several nations to work hard to find solutions. Progress was made in the last hours of the conference to broker a compromise. In the end, in particular India said they could not agree to what was on the table in Abu Dhabi. 

“WTO members know very well the harm caused by subsidies and the need to leverage the power of a global agreement to solve it. All of these ministers represent countries that have committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Biodiversity Framework, and they can’t meet those commitments without cutting the subsidies that drive overfishing, with devastating effects on ocean health and livelihoods,” adds Holl-Buhl. 


Notes to Editors
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Facilitator and co-chairs at the WTO talks in Abu Dhabi at the 13th Ministerial Conference in 2024.