ACP Group push for fisheries subsidy reform at WTO

26 March 2015

The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of countries has tabled a series of elements that it says should define a potential WTO work programme on the Doha Round talks, according to a communication circulated by Barbados on the Group’s behalf earlier this month.

Among other things, the ACP Group flags tackling fisheries subsides that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, as important to include in an agenda to conclude the global trade body’s long-running talks.

Further disciplines on subsidies in the fisheries sector, the ACP Group says, should include enhanced transparency and notification requirements on fisheries subsidies, along with limiting and progressively phasing out this type of support.

Regarding the latter, the communication lists, for instance, those subsidies provided to vessels undertaking fishing practices that significantly harm vulnerable marine ecosystems and habitats; subsidies provided to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; as well as subsidies provided to any fishing vessel or fishing activity affecting overfished stocks.

The ACP Group also says that it remains committed “to explor[ing] broader disciplines” on fisheries subsidies provided that these incorporate “appropriate and effective” special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions.

Fisheries subsidies at the WTO

The Group would like to see WTO members reach an agreement on a fisheries package by the organisation’s Tenth Ministerial Conference, scheduled to be held this December in Nairobi, Kenya. ACP countries said the Doha Round’s negotiations on fisheries disciplines are a “central” component of the Doha Round’s development dimension.  

The 2001 Doha Ministerial Conference mandate launched negotiations to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies. Four years later, at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, members agreed to work towards a prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.  

Recent discussions under the Rules Negotiating Group at the global trade body, which is tasked with the fisheries subsidies talks, have showed a continued divide among members on whether rules negotiations should be included in the forthcoming WTO work programme.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2011 28.8 percent of commercially important stocks were overfished, 61.3 percent full fished, and 9.9 percent underfished. Fish are the world’s most traded food commodity, with fish exports worth almost US$130 billion in 2012.

WTO work programme?

WTO members are currently trying to elaborate a work programme to wrap up Doha issues ahead of a July deadline. The ACP Group’s submission builds on its previous positions under the Doha Round talks regarding special and differential treatment (S&DT) proposals, agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), services, fisheries subsidies, and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. (See Bridges Africa, 23 March 2015)

The Group has said that these outstanding issues, “at a minimum,” are key to bringing the Doha Round trade talks to a close.

The core issues of the planned Doha work programme are likely to revolve around agriculture, non-agricultural market access, and services, though this does not mean that it would exclude other negotiating areas. (See Bridges Weekly, 26 February 2015)

Though the work programme discussions are still to be said at an early stage, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told ambassadors at a meeting last week that they “are continuing to make steady progress in terms of understanding the issues and each other's aspirations and limitations,” while urging members to continue working to overcome the various challenges that lie ahead.

ICTSD reporting. 

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