The chair of the World Trade Organization (WTO) fisheries subsidies negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, presented a revised draft text which he said aims to serve as a basis for the meeting at the ministerial level of July 2021. Ministers are expected to negotiate a final agreement on July 15.
On June 30, Ambassador Wills thanked members for their commitment and flexibility during this final phase of work. He noted that members have discussed “almost all the main provisions of the draft text” over the past few weeks. Ambassador Wills said the revised draft text (TN / RL / W / 276 / Rev.1) aims to serve as “a true reflection of the whole group” and to be conducive to “attracting convergence”. He said the revised text should be treated as “being in square brackets; nothing is agreed until everything is.
The Chair guided members through the revised draft text, noting areas of support and areas where members’ views remain divergent. He identified special and differential treatment (S&D) discussions under the overcapacity and overfishing pillar as a key area where further work is needed. He also observed that subsistence, artisanal and small-scale fishing is an area where many concerns remain. The Chair noted that further discussion is needed in several areas, including:
- Article 1.2 (non-specific fuel subsidies);
- Article 3 (disciplines on subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing);
- Article 3.8 (S&DT), including discussion of a time-limited exemption from the ban on subsidies for low-income, low-resource or livelihood fishing within 12 nautical miles;
- Article 5.1.1 (the qualifier of the ban on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing), some members considering the qualifier as too strict and others as too lenient;
- Article 5.2 (an additional ban on subordinate or fishing-related subsidies outside the jurisdiction of the subsidizing members and an exemption for non-recovery of government-to-government payments under access agreements);
- Article 5.3 (prohibition of all subsidies to high seas fishing); and
- Article 5.5 (S&DT in the overcapacity and overfishing pillar), which, according to the Chair, is the “area of concern most often identified for many delegations” and seems to reflect fundamental differences of views on the objective of the S&DT, some members see it as a basis for being definitively sheltered from disciplines for development reasons and others seeing it as a means of achieving the implementation of the global sustainability mandate.
The Chair noted that further discussions will take place over the coming weeks to help members move forward discussions on new proposals not included in the text. Recent proposals include one on the capping of Brazil, one on forced labor by the United States, one on the dispute settlement of Chinese Taipei, one on the SST of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the African Group, and additional written submissions from China Taipei, India and Sri Lanka.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the revised text reflects the president’s best judgment on “changes that can help members close the gap in their positions.” She hailed the revisions as a “good basis for more detailed work” among members to conclude negotiations. Okonjo-Iweala urged members to push to conclude negotiations and make the necessary progress to move towards a conclusion.
Regarding article 7 on technical assistance and capacity building, the Director General said that the changes aim to make more explicit the technical assistance and capacity building mechanism for the implementation of the new disciplines than the new disciplines. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Developing Country Members will receive. . She said the revised text includes specific language on establishing a WTO financial mechanism in cooperation with organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Okonjo-Iweala said he had listened to the difficulties many LDCs and developing country members face with past commitments on capacity building and technical assistance, and stressed that the proposed mechanism aims to design something different by response to these concerns.
Okonjo-Iweala concluded by expressing his “strong sense of optimism” that members will be able to conclude these negotiations. She reminded members that concluding the negotiations is a burden that world leaders have placed on the WTO as part of the SDGs, and said members should keep this duty in mind.
The July ministerial meeting will be held virtually. Prior to the meeting, the CEO and the negotiating chair will send questions to ministers to help guide discussions. The WTO will give each minister time to speak before the closing session. The closing session will focus on the way forward. [WTO Press Release] [Chair’s Explanatory Note] [WTO Director-General’s Statement]