21 Dec 2017 Press release Green economy

Fisheries Subsidies at the World Trade Organization’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference

Buenos Aires, 11 December 2017

UN Environment, UNCTAD and FAO, in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, jointly organized a high level session on fisheries entitled “Fish Trade, Fisheries Subsidies and SDG 14” to support relevant negotiations at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 11th Ministerial Conference. Taking place at the margins of this conference in Buenos Aires, the aim of the event was to support a joint vision between WTO Members for a far reaching reform of fisheries subsidies.

During the event, Ministers and Heads of International Organizations discussed the significance of healthy fisheries, fish and fish products to international trade, food security, nutrition, poverty reduction and development. Topics addressed included the prohibition of certain harmful fish subsidies, market access, fisheries management systems and regulatory issues.

Environmentally harmful fisheries subsidies as well as subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, have devastating socio-economic implications for the environment, coastal populations, and are highly trade distorting.

The event highlighted that particularly developing countries could benefit from the elimination of unjust and environmentally-harmful fisheries subsidies. Ministers committed to combine efforts on the prohibition of fish subsidies to IUU fishing, improved transparency, studying the impact of subsidies on overfishing, unfair competition and access to stocks by small-scale fishermen. The Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Josephine Okijamo, pointed to capacity constraints that many of the Commonwealth’s Members face, leading them to “struggle to capture greater value within the fisheries sector". Monica Maldonado from the Association of Tuna Processors and Industries (CEIPA) furthermore stressed that sustainability is not a trade barrier but an opportunity for competitiveness, stock conservation and social inclusion.

This year’s Ministerial Conference ended with a limited agreement on fisheries subsidies and did not deliver on the high hopes set on the “low hanging fish”: Members agreed on a standstill provision for fisheries subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, as well as overfishing and overcapacity, and committed to improve reporting practices on existing subsidies programmes. They furthermore issued a commitment to continue their work in order to secure a deal at the next Ministerial Conference, in 2019.

The agreement reached at this year’s Ministerial Conference is - though small - a first step towards fulfilling States’ commitment under SDG target 16.4. However, in order to deliver upon States’ commitment to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing by 2020, much more needs to be done. As Dr Kituyi, Secretary General of UNCTAD also reminded Members during the event that “urgent and diligent follow-up is necessary” in order to deliver on this commitment.

Already in 2015, by way of their commitment under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 14.6, the international community has agreed to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, by 2020. UN Environment, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have issued a Voluntary Commitment at the 2017 UN Ocean’s Conference to support States in fulfilling this commitment.

UN Environment, UNCTAD and FAO will continue their joint work to support States in the upcoming year on this issue and support dialogue between Members’ post-MC11, as well as progress on fisheries subsidies that may be achieved by way of other relevant international, regional and national fora.


See also: blog post on fisheries subsidies at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference by Anja von Moltke, Head of the Environment and Trade Hub, UN Environment.