Momentum builds in talks to end harmful subsidies that drive overfishing

15 July 2021 - At the close of a World Trade Organization Special Ministerial Meeting convened today by the recently appointed WTO Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Friends of Ocean Action is cautiously optimistic that the World Trade Organization (WTO) can agree this year on a deal to end fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

A strong call and commitment to eliminate these harmful fisheries subsidies “by 2020” was made by all Heads of State and Government as part of the Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean, SDG14, and has recently been reiterated again as a global priority action by the G7 leaders last month in Cornwall, by the 14 serving Heads of State and Government of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, and by other leading global fora.

Momentum has also been accelerated by the negotiations chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, and the appointment this year of WTO Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has made reaching a deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies a clarion call of her time so far in office.

“It has been estimated by many that ending harmful fisheries subsidies is the single most effective short-term act that can be done to turn around the current decline in the ocean’s health. Let’s do it. Let’s do it without further delay. The ocean won’t take much more of this mistreatment without reacting in ways that we have yet to fully understand, but which will clearly not be good for the people of this planet,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action, in a recent Friends of Ocean Action webinar on ending harmful fisheries subsidies.

“To the negotiators, the facilitators and the WTO Secretariat, I say that a hopeful world waits outside the door of your negotiations. We have waited a long time, but we have faith that this is the year you will deliver the required agreement. Is there light at the end of this 22-year tunnel? Yes, the light is always there. The question is whether we have the communal wit to make our way into its enlightenment,” said Thomson.

It is estimated that 80-85% of all fisheries subsidies are benefiting large industrial fleets, adversely affecting small-scale fishers’ access to resources and markets.

Members of Friends of Ocean Action, diverse global leaders from a wide range of sectors who are committed to fast-tracking action for a healthy, thriving ocean, have called for decisive action by WTO members this year in their Ocean Super Year Declaration.

Media contact

  • Gemma Parkes, Communications Lead, Friends of Ocean Action, World Economic Forum:, +41793052977