In accordance with WTO’s commitment to multilateral efforts that safeguard global fisheries and promote sustainable fishing practices amongst WTO member States, the Director-General of the WTO, Dr. NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, has chaired the talks aimed to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal and unregulated fishing, as well as to over-fishing which threatens the sustainability of fish stocks and the fishing industry.
Organized as a hybrid event, the Ministers of WTO Member States met virtually, while their Ambassadors gathered at WTO headquarters in Geneva in person, to advance negotiations and bring the 20-year-old talks on eliminating harmful fishing subsidies to a successful conclusion.
It may be recalled that the negotiations on fisheries subsidies disciplines have been ongoing for nearly 20 years and although there has been recent progress, the lack of political impetus in the talks needed to close the gaps and seal the deal has been lacking.
Upon taking the reins of the global trade body in March, Okonjo-Iweala highlighted her top priority actions to include clinching the long-awaited fisheries deal by the end of this year and the recently concluded meeting was one further step to bringing the negotiations within striking distance of a deal.
Speaking during the meeting, Director-General NgoziOkonjo-Iweala remarked that “I feel new hope this evening…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.”
Amb. Santiago Wills of Colombia, who chairs the Rules Negotiating Group overseeing the Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations, described the outcome of the meeting as a real success, stating that “We have been given the ingredients to reach a successful conclusion; a commitment to finish well ahead of our Ministerial Conference, a text that can be the platform for this final stage of the negotiations”.
The takeaways from the meeting indeed signal a great improvement in prospects for a final deal. By negotiating away harmful fisheries subsidies, WTO Members will not just be honoring past commitments. They will also be lending momentum to other international efforts to address global problems ranging from Climate Change to the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts posit that a successful agreement would be a triple win for Trade, Development, and the Environment.