Special Envoy for the Ocean calls for elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies by end of the year

In a letter to the Permanent Representatives of 42 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and co-chair of Friends of Ocean Action, Ambassador Peter Thomson, said he was adding his voice to those applauding the 42 countries for affirming support for the intensification of their efforts to develop new WTO disciplines despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A joint statement was issued by the 42 member countries on 5 May at a meeting of the WTO General Council. The WTO is tasked with the implementation of the specific target of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean (SDG 14.6) that calls for the establishment by 2020 of a mechanism to eliminate subsidies contributing to overfishing and overcapacity, including illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Since then, the WTO Working Group on Rules has been addressing the details of the agreement, and Trade Ministers at the last WTO Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in December 2017 confirmed formally that they wanted an agreement concluded no later than 2020.

In his letter to the 42 WTO members, Ambassador Thomson said:

“As is well known by all, the new disciplines required for the elimination of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and to IUU fishing have been discussed for two decades within the WTO. In the meantime, fisheries resources worldwide have continued to shrink, with 33% of the world’s fish populations being overfished and 60% being fished to their biologically sustainable limits. Fisheries subsidies are considered to be key drivers of overfishing.”

It had been expected the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Elimination Agreement would be signed at a Ministerial Conference in June 2020, but that conference has now been postponed sine die due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In his letter, Ambassador Thomson says this should not be a reason to postpone the WTO’s Subsidies Elimination Agreement:

“I am advised that in the absence of a WTO Ministerial Conference this year, the WTO General Council is qualified to adopt the decision required on fisheries subsidies. On behalf of the Friends of Ocean Action, and in conformity with the internationally agreed target set under SDG 14.6, I urge you to redouble efforts to ensure that new disciplines on fisheries subsidies are adopted at the meeting of the General Council in December 2020. In the intensity of the virtual spaces within which we are now working, we are learning that greater focus and progress are eminently achievable.”

The WTO General Council is chaired this year by Ambassador David Walker, New Zealand’s Permanent Representative. The December meeting of the Council will take place in Geneva.

Ambassador Thomson concluded his message with:

“It is self-evident that a successful conclusion of WTO’s negotiations on fisheries subsidies before the end of this year would be a great affirmation of the fact that even in the troubled times through which we are living, the multilateral system continues to function on behalf of the common good of people and planet.”

The Friends of Ocean Action are continuing their efforts to assist the achievement of SDG 14.6 and the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies by featuring them during the forthcoming Virtual Ocean Dialogues on 1-5 June. A week-long global series of high-level and expert online meetings open to all, the Virtual Ocean Dialogues are being organized by Friends of Ocean Action and the World Economic Forum.

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Note to editor:

  • The full ‘WTO 42’ statement of 5 May is available on the WTO website here: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm
  • Document WT/GC/212 of 5 May 2020 was signed by: Afghanistan, Australia, Barbados, Benin, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador,Guatemala, Guyana, Hong Kong, China, Iceland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Mexico, Mauritius, Moldavia, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, Ukraine, UAE, UK and Uruguay.
  • Friends of Ocean Action is a unique, informal group of 58 global leaders who are fast-tracking scalable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the World Resources Institute.
  • More about the Virtual Ocean Dialogues: https://www.weforum.org/events/virtual-ocean-dialogues-2020
  • More about Friends of Ocean Action: http://friendsofoceanaction.org/
  • Follow Friends of Ocean Action on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FriendsofOcean