U.S. Statement at WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations

World Trade Organization (WTO) Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations
Negotiating Group on Rules Submission of Australia and the United States: TN/RL/GEN/197
“A Cap-based Approach to Addressing Certain Fisheries Subsidies”

Introductory Statement by Dennis C. Shea, U.S. Ambassador to the WTO
Geneva, March 27, 2019

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon, Roberto. Good afternoon, Members of the Rules Negotiating Group.  I am pleased to join you today because this negotiation has the potential to be a real game-changer. The fisheries subsidies negotiations represent a potentially pivotal opportunity for the WTO to demonstrate that its negotiating arm remains strong, and that the organization can develop new rules that have a real-world impact not only on our economies, but also on our environment.

Since we kicked off these negotiations in 2002, threats to global fish stocks have only increased due to overfishing, overcapacity and illegal fishing, driven in part by excessive fisheries subsidies. Here we are, negotiating 17 years later — 17 years later— because we are still trying to find the right balance between helping our hard-working fishermen and women on the one hand, while not increasing their fishing effort to historically unsustainable levels, on the other.  Finding the right balance will require a combination of transparency, targeted subsidy prohibitions that apply to all of us with respect to the most harmful subsidy programs, and new rules to restrain subsidy programs over time.

I understand that this group has been focused on the technical details of the new subsidy rules; for example, prohibitions on subsidies for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.  The proposal that I am presenting today, on behalf of the United States and Australia, is intended to complement the prohibitions that the RNG is already working on.  There are three key elements to our proposal that I want to highlight.

First, as a foundation, all WTO Members would provide – before the summer break – a comprehensive and up to date fisheries subsidy notification. This is the notification under the Subsidies Agreement that our ministers already re-committed to provide at MC-11.

On the basis of these subsidy notifications and FAO marine capture production and export data, major players in the fisheries sector would negotiate caps – or maximum limits – to their fisheries subsidies programs, in addition to reductions over time, as part of a WTO request-offer negotiation with other interested Members. This would involve roughly 25 Members that account for over 86% of marine capture production and exports.

Other Members would negotiate similar caps on their subsidy programs, but would not be required to reduce the subsidy level over time. Or alternatively for those Members that do not currently provide subsidies, or have no plans to do so, they could accept a default subsidy cap of $5 million.

Any Member accounting for 0.05% or less of fishing and seafood exports would be completely exempt from this proposal, other than maintaining up to date fisheries subsidies notifications. These Members combined account for less than 1% of total global marine capture production and exports.

With this proposal, we intend to inject an idea that can supplement the prohibitions already being developed, and move us past some of the entrenched positions and difficulties in dealing with subsidies that can lead to overfishing and overcapacity when they are not properly monitored and restrained.

In order for the proposal – and importantly the outcome – to stand the test of time, we are also including a review mechanism to ensure that the commitments keep pace with the production and export data and reflect current realities, not just today’s.  Our goal is to avoid locking in current practice by creating a framework for concrete, measurable subsidy reforms over time.

A request-offer negotiating process would at the same time complement the prohibitions and provide for a flexible, individualized approach.  It allows us to customize commitments that are reflective of each Member’s role in the fisheries sector and the level and types of subsidies that the Member provides.

In sum, our proposal offers a practical approach that can produce a balanced outcome in which major producers and traders contribute commensurate with their role in the trading system.  It would also create much-needed transparency and constraints on fisheries subsidies.

Before closing, I also want to acknowledge that our good friends and colleagues from the Philippines have filed a proposal as well this week that has many similar foundational elements, including the need for up-to-date, complete subsidy notifications by all Members. The Philippine proposal similarly would use FAO data to create a framework whereby major players would make additional commitments to cap or constrain their subsidy programs, as a complement to the agreed upon subsidy prohibitions. We are committed to work with the Philippines and other delegations to further develop this type of approach, as well as the underlying subsidy prohibitions, in order to ensure a meaningful result in these negotiations.

I wish you all luck and encourage you to be creative in finding solutions to the challenges ahead. The fish, and the health of the world’s oceans, are counting on us. And, of course, we are getting closer and closer to the deadline our Ministers have given us.