WTO fails to net deal to halt over-fishing before deadline

WTO’s inability to conclude the negotiations by year-end thus marks a clear setback not only for the global trade body, but for the overall UN system which will miss that target.. — Reuters pic
WTO’s inability to conclude the negotiations by year-end thus marks a clear setback not only for the global trade body, but for the overall UN system which will miss that target.. — Reuters pic

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GENEVA, Dec 14 — The World Trade Organisation has failed to secure a deal on banning fisheries subsidies that contribute to over-fishing by a year-end deadline, but talks will resume in January, a source said today.

Fresh rounds of meetings on the issue will begin on January 18, a source close to the discussions told AFP.

That means a further extension of the discussion that have been going for nearly 20 years.

Colombian ambassador Santiago Wills, who has been chairing the negotiations, told an informal meeting Monday that it would not be possible to conclude the talks before the end of the year as planned, pointing to delays caused by the pandemic, the source said.

The coronavirus crisis forced a work shutdown for several months earlier this year.

And while discussions resumed a few weeks ago, the restrictions around physical meetings, as well as the multiple difficulties facing members as a result of the crisis have created significant obstacles to progress, Wills said. 

Wills praised the intense efforts by members in recent months which had made it possible to advance in several areas.

But he acknowledged that substantial differences remain between the members, and said a new version of the draft text would be circulated in coming days, according to the source

Two decades of talks 

It is widely agreed that action is needed against over-fishing, which is stripping the seas of a hugely important resource that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods, but two decades of discussions have yet to resolve how to proceed.

Negotiations began at the WTO in Doha in 2001 and got a much-needed boost with the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

That set the end of 2020 as the non-binding deadline for eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

WTO’s inability to conclude the negotiations by year-end thus marks a clear setback not only for the global trade body, but for the overall UN system which will miss that target.

Despite the years of discussion, multiple fault lines still exist, including over whether there are good subsidies and bad subsidies.

European countries and others such as Japan and South Korea want a ban on subsidies, except where it has a positive impact and any potential negative effects can be cancelled out.

Others believe, on the contrary, that any subsidy is inherently bad and should be removed, while there are also voices calling for subsidy caps.

One of the main stumbling blocks appears to be how developing countries and the poorest nations will be treated.

Some, such as India, are calling for themselves to be almost completely exempt from any constraints.

That demand is difficult for everyone to accept, especially since the WTO system allows its members to self-identify as developing countries.

Many of the major fishing nations are considered developing countries, including China, which has one of the world’s biggest fishing fleets. — AFP

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