GENEVA—The chair of the World Trade Organization’s fisheries subsidies negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, today released draft text that will serve as the basis for discussions later this year aimed at reaching an agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies.
When the 193 United Nations member countries created their sustainable development goals in 2015, leaders promised to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies by the end of 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of negotiations, including the June in-person WTO ministerial conference at which an agreement could have been reached. But with Switzerland, home to WTO headquarters, beginning to ease pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings, Wills met with WTO heads of delegation today to present the proposed text, signaling that talks will resume soon.
Governments around the world spend $35 billion on fisheries subsidies each year, according to an analysis published in the scientific journal Marine Policy in November. Of that total, more than $22 billion is spent on capacity-enhancing subsidies, which are harmful because they have become key drivers of overfishing and the decline in fish populations worldwide.
Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies project, issued the following statement:
“The release of this text and conversations around it demonstrate that government leaders worldwide are committed to concluding their negotiations this year to put a stop to harmful fisheries subsidies, which hurt communities and jeopardize ocean health, threatening food security and livelihoods. This is a game-changing opportunity to build back better in the wake of COVID-19—to rebuild economies in ways that benefit both nature and people while fixing policies that aren’t working.
“World leaders should keep this momentum going and agree this year on language that is as ambitious as possible and that stops the use of government money to incentivize unsustainable fishing practices that deplete fish populations. In particular, it is critical that they set strong rules for subsidies that drive overcapacity and overfishing, such as support for fuel costs and vessel construction.
“An agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies can help countries with their post-pandemic recoveries—and that agreement is within reach. If done right, this deal could improve the health of fish populations, the global ocean, and communities and economies around the world.”
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