Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies: Addressing Harmful and Non-Harmful Subsidies

WTO: Paths Forward
Organised by
12 September 2018
Geneva, Switzerland

This seminar provided an opportunity for WTO negotiators to reflect on inputs from experts and engage in informal dialogue around the question of how to address harmful and non-harmful subsidies in possible WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies.

The first session discussed concrete and practical evidence regarding the effects of subsidies provided to the fishing sector based on three specific cases: the southern long-line tuna fishery in the Western Central Pacific, shrimp fisheries off the Pacific Coast of Central America, and sardinella fishing off the coast of West Africa. Experts considered various real-life examples of how subsidies can increase levels of fishing activity and lead to unsustainable fishing, also underlining the types of subsidies that can broadly be considered as non-harmful. Discussions shed light on some of the key questions and considerations that possible WTO rules on fisheries subsidies would need to address. 

Building on the evidence presented and discussed in the first session, the second session explored ways in which WTO members could address harmful and non-harmful subsidies in possible WTO rules. Discussions considered potential approaches and legal tools that members could use to craft new disciplines which prohibit the most harmful subsidies while making sure that subsidies that are considered to be beneficial are still allowed.

Main takeaways

  • The effects of subsidies are both multiple and context-dependent. This may call for a careful approach when subsides have harmful long-term effects but play important socio-economic roles in the short-term.
  • The absence of an immediate alarm signal indicating that overfishing is occurring does not mean that subsidies do not have negative effects. In such cases, subsidies can still contribute to overcapacity, which is often a precursor for overfishing.
  • Various approaches – list-based, effects-based, or hybrid – and legal tools – rebuttable presumptions, for example – can be used to discipline fisheries subsidies at the WTO. All have their advantages and limitations that need to be prudently weighed.

The event built on previous ICTSD dialogues and research on these topics, in particular ICTSD’s recent publication Fisheries Subsidies Rules at the WTO: A Compilation of Evidence and Analysis and the policy brief Building Comprehensive and Effective WTO Rules on Fisheries Subsidies.

The meeting is part of the first set of dialogues of the ICTSD initiative WTO: Paths Forward. Building on the outcomes of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, this initiative will provide a platform to exchange perspectives and in-depth analysis on possible options for WTO-based processes going forward and into the 12th Ministerial Conference.

The context setting was done by Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, Chief Executive of ICTSD.

Ricardo MELÉNDEZ-ORTIZ, Chief Executive, ICTSD

In this session, experts will present evidence of the effects of different types of subsidies based on their experiences in the field in specific fisheries spanning across various regions. 


Andrés CISNEROS-MONTEMAYOR, Program Manager, Nereus Program, University of British Columbia

Lessons from shrimp fisheries in Central America


Sevaly SEN, Director, Oceanomics

Lessons from tuna fishing in the Pacific


Dyhia BELHABIB, Programme Manager, Ecotrust Canada

Lessons from the sardinella fishery in West Africa


Tristan IRSCHLINGER, Programme Officer, ICTSD


Open discussion

16:15 - 16:30

This session will build on the lessons from the ground presented in the previous session and explore the implications of such evidence for WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies.


Alan YANOVICH, Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

A legal perspective


Carl-Christian SCHMIDT, Chair, Nordic Marine Think Tank

A policy perspective


Alice TIPPING, Programme Manager, ICTSD

Open discussion

Ricardo MELÉNDEZ-ORTIZ is founder and Chief Executive since 1996 of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Previously, he co-founded and was General Director of Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (Quito). He has represented Colombia as a negotiator in several multilateral fora, including as permanent delegate of Colombia in Geneva and as a negotiator in GATT’s Uruguay Round, the Rio’92 UN Conference process, UNCTAD VIII, the Climate Change Convention, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Montreal Protocol. He acted as spokesperson for the G77 in several fora and served as chair of the UN Standing Committees on Commodities and on Trade Preferences. Earlier, he had served as Principal Adviser to the Colombian Minister of Economic Development and as Chief of Administration of the Office of the President of Colombia.

Since 1997, Mr. Meléndez-Ortiz has been the publisher of BRIDGES and its sister publications, and has edited, authored and published a wide range of books, articles and opinion pieces in English, French and Spanish on economic governance, trade, sustainable development and conflict management.

He has served or currently sits on advisory committees and the boards of a number of global policy initiatives, including as Board chairperson of the Meridian Institute (U.S.); World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Biodiversity and the Bio-Economy; World Economic Forum’s Stewardship Board on Trade and Investment; a Convener of the 'E15 Initiative’, an international undertaking involving over 400 experts seeking options for the global trade and investment system; Member of the Board of Intellectual Property Watch (Geneva); the Operating Board of AccountAbility (London); the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Trade and WEF’s Working Group on Trade and Climate Change; The Pardee Center Task Force on Governance for a Green Economy (U of Boston); The Center for Global Development’s Global Trade Preference Working Group (Washington, DC); The Evian’s Group Brains Trust (IMD); the Global Governance Network of Globus et Locus (Milano); the Steering Committees of DfID’s Global Trade and Finance Architecture Initiative and of UN DESA’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Partnership (New York), a Patron of the Earth Focus Foundation (Geneva); in the recent past he served as Chair of the Global Action Network’s Council (Cambridge, MA); and member of the U.N. Secretary General Millennium Project Task Force on Trade; the WTO’s Director General NGO Advisory Group; and the MOFCOM/IISD China Sustainable Development and Global Markets Task Force.

In 2016 he was an advisor to the G20 China Presidency on Trade and Investment, in 2017 co-chair of the T20 Task Force on Trade and Investment during Germany’s G20 Presidency, in 2018 co-chair of T20 Task Force on Trade, Investment and Tax Cooperation during Argentina’s G20 Presidency and in 2018/2019 co-chair of T20 Task Force for Trade, Investment and Globalization during Japan’s G20 Presidency.

Since 2015, he is part of the Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) Global Digital Futures Policy Forum.

Mr. Meléndez-Ortiz, a graduate of Harvard University, has recently co-authored the New Industrial Revolution: Upgrading Trade and Investment Frameworks for Digitalization (21 August 2018) with Axel Berger: this policy brief was produced by the T20 Task Force on Trade, Investment and Tax Cooperation under the G20 Presidency of Argentina in 2018; Renforcer le système international du commerce et de l’investissement au 21ème siècle (1 December 2016) with Richard Samans; The Law and Economics of a Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement (30 August 2016) with Gary Hufbauer, Richard Samans; Envisioning China’s G20 Presidency: Proposals for the global trade and investment regime in the 21st century (19 March 2016); Strengthening the Global Trade and Investment System in the 21st Century, Synthesis Report, under the E15Initiative (22 January 2016) with Richard Samans, Harsha V. Singh, Sean Doherty; Enabling the Energy Transition and Scale-up of Clean Energy Technologies: Options for the Global Trade System, under the E15Initiative (22 January 2016)Envisioning a Sustainable Development Agenda for Trade and Environment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) with A. Najam and M. Halle, and co-edited Rebuilding Global Trade: Proposals for A Fairer, More Sustainable Future(Global Economic Governance Programme at Oxford U. and ICTSD, 2009) with C. Deere; Agricultural Subsidies In The WTO Green Box: Ensuring Coherence With Sustainable Development Goals (Cambridge University Press, 2009) with C. Bellmann and J. Hepburn; Intellectual Property and Sustainable Development, Agendas in a Changing World(Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009) with P. Roffe; and, WTO Dispute Settlement: The Developing CountryExperience (Cambridge U. Press, forthcoming November 2010) with G. Shaffer. He holds the Colombian nationality and is a resident of Switzerland where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

Tristan Irschlinger is a Programme Officer for ICTSD's Environment and Natural Resources programme, having previously been the Managing Editor, Bridges Africa and Passerelles. Prior to ICTSD, he worked for the United Nations Centre on Trade Facilitation and e-Business (UN/CEFACT) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). He completed a traineeship at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the WTO and EFTA (UNCTAD, UNECE, ITC), where he took part in the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) negotiations and closely followed the NAMA discussions and the dispute settlement mechanism. He also co-founded and co-leads Jet d'Encre (, an independent web platform publishing analytical pieces on a wide range of issues. Tristan holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from University of Geneva (valedictorian). He is a citizen of Switzerland and speaks French, English, and intermediate German.

Dr. Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor is a Program Manager and Research Associate with the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia, and specializes in applied resource economics. Linking field and theoretic work, he has studied the economics of ecotourism, competing fishing sectors, alternative management strategies and ecosystem approaches to policy, and Indigenous fisheries, in developing and developed regions including Belize, Canada, Central America, East Asia, Mexico, Patagonia, the USA and West Africa

Sevaly Sen is an independent applied fisheries economist with over 30 years experience working in artisanal and industrial fisheries and aquaculture in Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa. She advises clients (governments, industry, eNGOs) on a wide range of policy and implementation issues including rights-based management, fisheries reform and structural adjustment. Other work included the evaluation of a wide range of fisheries and aquaculture development programmes and projects, research on displaced effort, individual transferable quotas, and inter-sectoral access and allocation, and providing advice to industry on a structural change. Based in Australia, Sevaly is the sustainability advisor to Sydney Fish Market (largest fish auction in the Southern Hemisphere) and manages a national research programme on fisheries and aquaculture sustainability for the Australian Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. She has recently been appointed an Independent Expert (Fisheries) to the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative which benchmarks third party seafood certification schemes.

Sevaly holds a Master’s Degree in Economics  from the London School of Economics, an LLB (Hons) from Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London and a BSc(Hons) from the University of Bristol.

Dr. Dyhia Belhabib is a Program Manager at Ecotrust Canada, and the Principal Investigator for I-Sea Fisheries. She also acts as an advisor for a few research projects at the University of British Columbia where she used to be a Research Associate and Fisheries Scientist. Dr. Belhabib works on fisheries economics, conservation, equity, and food security, community engagement, fishing rights, and First Nation fisheries issues such as illegal fishing, fisheries agreements, and lack of fisheries data. Her work focuses greatly on enhancing transparency and providing insight through research on fisheries in Canada and abroad. She works closely with national and regional bodies, governments, non-governmental and professional organizations towards the uptake of scientific findings. She is committed to adding socio-economic and geographic diversity in the field and has worked on building local capacity and strong collaborations with many partners around the world by conducting numerous data research and analysis training activities. Dr. Belhabib completed her PhD in Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the Fisheries Centre, UBC, in 2014, just hours before she had her baby, while working as a consultant on Senegalese fisheries for Oceana. She has reconstructed fisheries catches of all sectors for 22 countries of West Africa, supervised fisheries research work for South America, and assessed the economic and societal importance of small-scale fisheries and how their resilience and performance were affected by illegal fisheries, climate change, and lack of adequate data. Her research and engagement work was translated into major policy changes and were featured in major media outlets such as the New York Times, Nature, Science, Radio Canada, and many others. Dr. Belhabib has over 40 peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed publications, and is an active blogger (read her stories).

Alice Tipping is a Programme Manager and leads the ICTSD’s Environment and Natural Resources programme.

Prior to joining the ICTSD, she worked as a diplomat and legal adviser in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She has served in New Zealand’s Mission to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, where she covered negotiations on trade remedies, including fisheries subsidies, trade and the environment and the WTO’s dispute settlement system.

She has also served in New Zealand’s Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, covering several UN specialised agencies and environmental issues.

Ms Tipping has also worked as a research and strategy analyst in foreign direct investment promotion.

She holds an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge University. She also holds a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with a major in Economics, from Victoria University of Wellington. Alice is citizen of the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Chair, Nordic Marine Think Tank. Former Head of the Fisheries Policies Division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). MA in Economics, Copenhagen School of Economics and Business Administration and Post-graduate studies at the College of Europe, Belgium. Has dealt with a wide range of international fisheries questions in particular related to trade, fisheries management, subsidies, IUU fisheries, certification and accreditation of fisheries, green growth and sustainable resource use. Helped set up the Marine Stewardship Council.

Alan Yanovich is a member of the international trade practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Mr. Yanovich advises foreign governments and multinational corporations on litigation of disputes before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international dispute-resolution bodies; on international business and policy issues; and on legislation, regulation and interagency policy formation.

Mr. Yanovich has extensive experience on international trade and investment matters at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels. He spent 12 years at the WTO Appellate Body, the WTO’s highest tribunal. As a counselor at the Appellate Body Secretariat, he provided advice on procedural and substantive issues to the members of the Appellate Body and was responsible for supervising all case management aspects of an appeal. He was co-lead lawyer in the two largest and most complex appeals—Airbus and Boeing—and in the appeal of the first dispute brought to the WTO involving government support policies in the renewable energy sector. In addition, he worked on more than a dozen other appeals covering trade remedies, state-trading enterprises, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical regulations and international standards, agricultural subsidies, internal taxes and intellectual property issues. Mr. Yanovich’s duties at the WTO also included conducting specialized training activities on the WTO’s rules and dispute settlement procedures for government officials around the globe.

Between 1997 and 2001, Mr. Yanovich was a legal advisor at the General Secretariat of the Andean Community, and, prior to that, he served as a commercial secretary at the Colombian Government Trade Bureau.

Mr. Yanovich has engaged in numerous research activities relating to both the multilateral trading system and regional trade agreements. He worked closely with the WTO’s Economic Research Division in the drafting of the WTO’s premier publication, the World Trade Report, in 2010 (“Trade in Natural Resources”), 2011 (“Regionalism”), 2012 (“Non-Tariff Barriers”) and 2013 (“Factors Shaping the Future of Trade”). He is the co-author of the most comprehensive study of dispute settlement mechanisms in regional trade agreements, classifying and analyzing the dispute settlement mechanisms of the 226 regional trade agreements notified to the WTO as of the end of 2012, as well as the author of an article on the WTO’s rules relating to the energy sector. Mr. Yanovich is also the author of several articles on WTO dispute settlement, including “Procedural and Evidentiary Issues” with W. Zdouc in The Oxford Handbook of International Trade Law (2009) and “The Evolving WTO Dispute Settlement System” in The WTO in the Twenty-First Century: Dispute Settlement, Negotiations, and Regionalism in Asia (2007). He has additionally co-edited a number of books on the WTO, such as The WTO at Ten: The Contribution of the Dispute Settlement System (2006) with Giorgio Sacerdoti and Jan Bohanes; 10 Anos de OMC: Uma análise do Sistema de Solução de Controvérsias e Perspectivas (2007) with L.O. Baptista and U. Celli Jr.; The WTO in the Twenty-first Century: Dispute Settlement, Negotiations, and Regionalism in Asia (2007) with Yasuhei Taniguchi and Jan Bohanes; and The WTO: Governance, Dispute Settlement, and Developing Countries (2008) with Merit E. Janow and Victoria Donaldson.

Mr Yanovich is originally from Colombia.