Trade group's report emphasizes need for action on fisheries subsidies

Posted on April, 24 2011

A key World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiating body released a long awaited report on April 22 that underscores the urgent need for WTO member action to halt government-subsidized overfishing.
A key World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiating body released a long awaited report on April 22 that underscores the urgent need for WTO member action to halt government-subsidized overfishing.

Calling the dramatic decline in fisheries resources “a crisis of exceptionally serious implications for all humankind”, the report notes broad agreement that “subsidies play a major role” in contributing to the problem, and reflects “nearly universal calls” for WTO action to eliminate inappropriate fisheries subsidies in an effective way.

But the report also reveals the unwillingness of some governments to move beyond defending their own use of destructive fisheries subsidies, even when “it is hard to see how such strategies can either protect communities and jobs or be a source of food security and stable growth over the long-term.” As a result, the report is unable to offer any new draft legal text, and accuses governments of making little or no progress toward new WTO fisheries subsidies disciplines since a draft text containing strong legal language was tabled in 2007.

Responding to the report, WWF Senior Fellow David Schorr stated: “This WTO report is a stark wake up call  for anyone who cares about the future of our oceans and our fishing communities. Governments have it within their hands to stop using taxpayer money to promote fisheries depletion. But a small number of governments with misguided policies continue to oppose WTO action to halt harmful fisheries subsidies.”

WWF applauded the Chair—Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago—for refusing to issue a “compromise” text at this time, and for resisting pressure from some WTO members to weaken the language of the “high ambition” 2007 draft text. “The Chair’s report clearly leaves the door open to strong WTO rules on fisheries subsidies,” said Schorr. “Particularly in light of the deepening uncertainty over the conclusion of the Doha Round, the report signals the continuing urgency of the environmental mandate underlying the fisheries subsidies talks.”

WWF further praised the important role played in recent weeks by the “Friends of Fish” governments who  have held out for serious WTO fisheries subsidies rules. With consistent leadership from New Zealand and the United States—along with Argentina, Australia, Chile, Iceland, and Norway—the Friends of Fish coalition issued a strong statement on April 1 warning that the credibility of the WTO on environmental issues is at stake.

“While a few other governments, such as Japan, the EU, and Korea continue to push for weaker rules, the Friends of Fish have been true to their name in keeping sight of the real stakes for the environment and for the quality of the WTO’s global leadership on trade,” said Schorr.

“The Doha Round may be struggling, but the need for effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies remains clear,” said Schorr. “While the Chair’s report focuses on the technical and political issues yet to be resolved, it also reveals how far we have come since the start of these negotiations. Most countries support strong WTO rules to end subsidies that drive overfishing, and they have agreed on a basic framework for doing so.

Whether in the context of a revitalized Doha Round or otherwise, the WTO must not retreat from this historic opportunity to show how innovative trade rules can produce important benefits for the environment, and especially for human communities whose lives depend on the health of our oceans.”

NOTE: This statement was updated May 5. To see the initial statement, click here.

A 2°C warming of Atlantic water temperatures will continue to threaten fish populations already strained by overfishing, pollution and habitat loss.
© WWF / Jo Benn

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