WTO Negotiating Group Fails to Meet 2020 Deadline on Fisheries Subsidy

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Dike Onwuamaeze

The Chairman of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Negotiating Group on Rules on Fisheries Subsidy, Ambassador Santiago Wills has announced that the group would not meet the 2020 deadline to deliver a policy document due to the constraints posed by the advent of COVID-19 pandemic disease.

Wills disclosed this during a media briefing to share update on fisheries subsidy negotiations of the WTO.

Wills said: “I am disappointed that we missed the 2020 deadline. But, I am not discouraged. To the contrary the momentum is there and we must not waste it. New policy on fisheries subsidies is a debt we owe to the global community. It is now clear that we cannot make up the time we have lost to COVID-19 and bring the negotiations to a successful outcome this year.

“With the right will and proper engagements I am convinced we can finish this in the near future.

“We should not underestimate the point of missing the deadline. We should not be discouraged either. To the contrary, we should be encouraged by the progress made with the momentum that has been built and by the unique and real opportunity that we have to conclude this process into the near future to fulfil the responsibility that has been passed to us.”

He, however, stated that the truth was that a lot of progress has been made this year and the credit should go to all the WTO members for maintaining a high level of commitment and determination.

“We have made progress in some areas of the draft agreement. We understand the highly complex issues that underlie these negotiations. In some areas there are willingness to compromise. Major differences remained. But in many areas delegations are not far apart,” he said.

Wills declared the he intended to schedule the first cluster of meetings after the Christmas break in the week of January 18, and assured that based on his consultations, all members are committed to bringing this negation to the finishing line.

“The WTO document on fisheries subsidy will undoubtedly be a further step in securing our oceans and our peoples. Members in recognising this have been working hard to get it right.

“At this critical juncture we need members to close the gaps and deliver a meaningful agreement soon. It is time for all of us to step up,” he said.

Wills revealed that some of the outstanding issues in the negotiations included subsidy that affects capacity to fishing and fish stocks and those that end up in the wrong hands about those that are engaging in illegal and unprotected fishing.

“We have issues on institutional arrangements, transparency and the scope. We need to find common grounds where members are comfortable.

“The idea for now is to work as fast as possible and efficient enough to deliver an agreement whenever we can in the near future. It is a debt that we owe to the global community and the debt is increasing with every day that passes. It is the view of the members that we will try to finish the agreement as soon as possible based on the July mandate that we still have. The idea is not for specific date to deliver this but we will do it as soon as possible,” Wills said, adding that “we need constructive engagements from members and the ability to find compromise,” he said.

Meanwhile, addressing heads of WTO member delegations on behalf of the four Deputy Directors-Generals, Karl Brauner called for renewed efforts in the new year to achieve convergence in ongoing negotiations, particularly on fisheries subsidies.

While recognising that members, “will not deliver an agreement on fisheries this year,” he noted that considerable progress had been made towards an accord, and emphasised that members do not need to “wait for MC12 or any other deadline” to resolve remaining gaps.

Brauner welcomed the launch of two environment-focused discussion processes by groups of members, one on plastics pollution and trade, and the other on trade and environmental sustainability. He also described the WTO Secretariat’s support to members amid the disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.