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Informal Open-Ended Negotiating Group on Rules (RNG) on Fisheries Subsidies
September 18, 2018

Statement as delivered by Ambassador Dennis C. Shea
U.S. Permanent Representative to the WTO
Geneva, 17 September 2018

Thank you, Ambassador Zapata, for convening this meeting, as well as for your very able leadership. We fully support your efforts to shake up the negotiating dynamics in this group and to put the WTO on track to conclude “comprehensive and effective disciplines” on harmful fisheries subsidies, as agreed by our Ministers at MC11.

The United States stands ready to actively participate in these negotiations, and remains committed to working with you and other Members to advance a robust and meaningful outcome.

I’m still relatively new here, about six months, but I wanted to share a few thoughts and observations.

I have so far observed an inclination for delegations to cling to old positions and views – despite the world around us changing rapidly. It will be important over the coming weeks and months for delegations to engage earnestly in “brainstorming” mode, as described in your work program, Roberto, and to resist the urge to re-hash old positions.

And while there is a comprehensive set of ideas already on the table in the form of a heavily bracketed text, we also must be willing to explore solutions that can bridge the divides within that text. We see the incubator groups as an opportunity to do that, in parallel to work on the text itself, which frankly will require fresh ideas in order to progress.

I also want to highlight that these negotiations, the WTO’s only active multilateral negotiation, are a practical, real-time opportunity to begin implementing much needed reforms.

We should be looking at these negotiations not only as a “test-case” for the negotiating function of this organization, but also as an opportunity to shift the discourse on some fundamental issues currently facing this institution.

For instance, new fisheries subsidies disciplines will only be meaningful if they reflect the reality that developing countries are among the world’s largest producers and exporters of seafood products, with several developing countries in the top 10 globally. Many of these same Members are also some of the biggest subsidizers.  We therefore must not assume that “traditional” approaches to special and differential treatment will be appropriate or effective when it comes to disciplining the most harmful fisheries subsidies.

Disciplines will need to apply to all major players – both developed and “self-identified” developing country Members.

We must also take the opportunity here to tackle another area of critical reform – the transparency and notifications of fisheries subsidy programs. There must be improvements in both the quality, quantity, timeliness, and substance of such notifications.  Ministers in Buenos Aires already agreed to this, and every Member should have an up to date subsidy notification.

In addition to keeping in mind these opportunities to reflect reform, I would also urge our negotiators to resist getting bogged down in the minutiae and to keep things as simple as possible. This, I have also observed, is another perennial challenge here in Geneva. But keeping things simple and straightforward is our best chance to reach an outcome by MC12.

A good example of where detail has slowed us down is in the area of illegal, unreported and unregulated, or “IUU”, fishing. We should all be able to agree not to subsidize illegal fishing, yet there is no consensus largely because we collectively are overcomplicating what should be the simplest, easiest element of these disciplines.

This need for simplicity is particularly important because as we Ambassadors, and eventually Ministers, are called upon to engage more actively to resolve issues and advance solutions, we have to be able to see and understand the bigger picture.

So thank you again, Roberto, for bringing us all together as we resume these negotiations after the summer break.

For our part, the United States stands ready to roll up our sleeves, to think creatively yet practically, and to help bring this negotiation to a successful conclusion.