180+ Organizations around the globe urge world leaders to ratify and strengthen the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies

Updated May 24th, 2024

Governments around the world made important headway toward protecting the world’s ocean and tackling one of the key drivers of overfishing when World Trade Organization (WTO) members adopted the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies in June 2022. The deal establishes, for the first time, a set of binding global rules that will require governments to consider the legality and sustainability of the fishing activities they subsidize. Nations made immense progress toward entering the agreement into force and reaching consensus on important additional disciplines at the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference in February 2024. However, it is critical to keep up the momentum: WTO members must strengthen and ratify the agreement as soon as possible.

The long-awaited Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is a critical step toward ensuring the ocean’s sustainability. Recognizing that one-third of fish stocks are exploited beyond sustainable levels1, yet governments have been providing an estimated US $22 billion every year in harmful subsidies that increase fishing capacity2, WTO members first came together two decades ago to establish binding multilateral rules on fisheries subsidies. After 20 years of negotiations, the WTO—which works by consensus—finalized a text on which all 164 member countries could agree. The new agreement prohibits giving subsidies that enable (1) illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, (2) fishing of overfished stocks or (3) fishing of unmanaged stocks on the high seas.

The conclusion of this agreement, however, is not enough on its own. First, the agreement can only enter into force once it has been formally accepted by the governments of two-thirds of the WTO’s membership (109 members). WTO members should intensify and accelerate their domestic efforts to ensure the agreement is ratified as soon as possible so it can begin delivering benefits to fish populations and local communities around the world.

Second, trade ministers had committed to continuing negotiations on outstanding issues and recommending additional rules by the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference. They came close to finalizing a deal, but now they must redouble their efforts to conclude their negotiations as soon as possible. These talks are aimed at creating essential new rules to curb the subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity more broadly. While the current agreement prohibits subsidies in situations where concerns regarding the sustainability of fishing are the most acute, additional rules are needed to better address the root cause of the problem and phase out subsidies that incentivize excessive capacity of fishing fleets and encourage fishing beyond sustainable and profitable levels. Anything less would miss an opportunity to redirect the course of the fishing sector toward sustainability, improve the health of ocean ecosystems and help ensure that the ocean will continue to provide food and economic security for the hundreds of millions who depend on it, now and into the future.

WTO members are not off the hook. They must keep up the momentum to strengthen and ratify the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies as soon as possible.


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