In WTO’s virtual Ministerial Meeting held on 15 July, 104 ministers and heads of delegation confirmed that the negotiating text on the meeting can be used as the basis for finalizing the agreement. WTO members pledged to conclude the negotiation at or before WTO’s Ministerial Conference in early December.
“In 20 years of negotiations, this is the closest we have ever come towards reaching an outcome — a high-quality outcome that would contribute to building a sustainable blue economy,” said Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The negotiation on fisheries subsidies in the WTO started in 2001, and “since then many deadlines have been missed, including the 2020 deadline contained in SDG Target 14.6”, addressed Ambassador Santiago Wills, Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, in the opening statement. He also reiterated the importance of the negotiations as they will affect millions of people, including many vulnerable populations. “The negotiations were urgent when they began 20 years ago, and have only become more so as each year has gone by and fish stocks have continued their alarming decline.”
The issue that remains unsolved is how to enhance the sustainability of the oceans while extending special and differential treatment (S&DT) to developing and least-developed WTO members. It is generally agreed at the meeting that the livelihoods and food security of vulnerable fisher communities remain greatly important, as the overall objective of ocean sustainability.
The delegations now need to prepare for an intensive period of line by line negotiations, as “the responsibility to conclude these negotiations is truly in the hands of members” to find “the necessary trade-offs and flexibilities,” said the General Director in the closing remark, “The world is watching. The fisheries subsidies negotiations are a test both of the WTO’s credibility as a multilateral negotiating forum and of the trading system’s ability to respond to problems of the global commons. If we wait another 20 years, there may be no marine fisheries left to subsidise — or artisanal fishing communities to support.”