WTO: Fisheries subsidies work resumes in Geneva as COVID-19 restrictions ease

WTO members will resume working towards an agreement on fisheries subsidies disciplines next week as COVID-19 containment measures have gradually eased. The chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, is convening the meeting to introduce a working document based on members’ proposals and the work of the facilitators who have been assisting the chair.

“All of our heads of government made a commitment to reach an agreement on fisheries subsidies by 2020 in the WTO. With restrictions in Switzerland being relaxed and meetings on WTO premises resuming, the time has come to pick up from where we left off. Gradual preparations beginning now will help members intensify negotiations before the end of the year,” the chair said.

On 25 June, the chair will present to heads of delegations a document consolidating elements from members’ proposals and from facilitators’ working texts to curb subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; subsidies to fishing overfished stocks; and subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity, along with some provisions on definitions and the scope of what the agreement could cover. Another meeting will be held on 21 July for members to share their comments and for the chair to suggest the next steps for negotiations in the  autumn.

Members had been working to conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations at the 12th Ministerial Conference. However, this meeting , originally scheduled for 8-11 June 2020 in Kazakhstan,  was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, all in-person WTO meetings had been suspended, so members conducted a written exchange of views on fisheries subsidies proposals and met virtually on other WTO work.  As of 18 June, on-site meetings of WTO bodies have resumed while still observing social distancing measures.

Based on the mandate from the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, negotiators are expected to secure an agreement in 2020 on disciplines eliminating subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries.

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