U.S. Statement at the WTO Heads of Delegation Meeting on Fisheries Subsidies

WTO Negotiating Group on Rules
Heads of Delegation Informal Open-ended Meeting on Fisheries Subsidies
Statement of the United States – Delivered by Ambassador Dennis C. Shea

Geneva, 17 July 2019

On behalf of the United States delegation, I want to thank you, Roberto, for your tremendous efforts over the past year and a half. You will be very much missed here in Geneva.

I also want to thank the Facilitators for their hard work thus far, and their efforts to pull together the working documents that were agreed by Members last week, which provide good “snapshots” of where the negotiations stand.

One word of caution at the outset on these Facilitator reports. While we agree that these are a useful tool, and a good basis for our continued work on text in the Fall, we need to avoid getting too distracted by these work products and turning these documents into a parallel negotiation that eats up valuable time.

Our focus for the remaining months must be on finding solutions that bridge the gaps in Members’ positions, working in whatever smaller configurations are necessary to do that, and developing the landing zone texts that will be required to reach consensus. And it will be incumbent on Members, particularly proponents, to work with the Facilitators and other Members to advance the texts and find common ground.

As I stated the last time we met in May, we had an initial test of our willingness and ability to move these negotiations closer to the finish line. And that was our individual efforts to meet our first Ministerial deadline, as reflected in Ministers’ re-commitment to providing updated subsidy notifications under the SCM agreement by the end of June.

I’m cautiously optimistic with the enhanced level of notifications received so far. Several of you have also told me that your notifications have been submitted and are in the process of being uploaded. Hopefully we will ultimately improve upon our poor notification record as a Membership. I urge all those who have not submitted your notification to do so as soon as possible.  We would appreciate regular updates from the Secretariat on the status of the SCM notifications, recognizing the important role that transparency plays in our current negotiations.

But apart from some progress on notifications, it is our view that these negotiations do not appear to be on track to finish by the end of this year. To borrow a famous phrase that is fitting on the 50thAnniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, “Houston, we have a problem.”  In this case, it might be, “RNG delegates, we have a problem.”

I understand from my team that the meetings last week made only limited progress on the actual issues and focused in large part on approving the Facilitator reports. While it was encouraging to see the introduction of new, and in some cases, bridging, proposals, there was also a great deal of restating old positions and rehashing the same debates that have tied up the negotiations prior to and since MC11.

In fact, as negotiations continue, we have identified a growing number of inconsistencies and contradictions, which largely seek to undermine any effect the disciplines may have on restraining a Member’s ability to subsidize. If you’ll indulge me as I provide a few examples:

On the one hand, some Members seem to distrust the process by which RFMOs list vessels engaged in IUU fishing, and resist accepting these RFMO listings as a basis on which to prohibit any subsidies to those vessels. But on the other hand, many of these same Members seem to place full confidence in the quotas and management measures established by these RFMOs and insist that they should be able to subsidize their fishermen in order to fulfill these RFMO quotas.  These Members appear not to recognize that if subsidies are required to make the fishing commercially viable, perhaps the quotas shouldn’t be given in the first place.

Similarly, while being willing to accept the findings by an RFMO that an area or stock is overfished, the same Members seek to preserve unbounded “policy space” with respect to continuing to subsidize fishing in their own national jurisdiction or EEZ, even if covered by an RFMO to which they are a Member.

Some Members also insist that the WTO is not a fisheries management organization and should not become one, but they do not hesitate to second-guess the actual fisheries management organizations and authorities doing the real work of conserving fish stocks.

Some Members are seeking a “green box” or exclusions for positive or beneficial subsidies, making an assumption that all such subsidies would have a positive effect in all instances, even on fish stocks that are overfished.  However, some of these same Members are claiming that it cannot be easily determined that a subsidy would ever have a negative effect, or that a Member could ever prove such a negative effect, and resist any negative effects test in a prohibition. Where is the logic in that?

And Members repeatedly underscore that we need to fulfil the sustainability element of our negotiating mandate. Yet the vast majority of proposals on the table are riddled with exceptions and carve-outs for these Members to continue to be able to subsidize that would in essence lead to more subsidizing, more pressure on fisheries resources, and more capacity in the system. Where is the sustainability in this?

All of these contradictions lead me to ask:  What subsidies are we willing to stop or reduce? And how will we deliver “comprehensive and effective disciplines,” as mandated by our Ministers at MC11, if Members do not intend to stop subsidizing, and in some cases, remain more focused on securing policy space to actually increase their subsidies?

I’m also hearing from some of you that we need to start getting realistic, or start thinking about a minimal outcome that we could pat ourselves on the back for delivering by the end of the year.  But we also must ask ourselves if, after nearly 20 years of work on this issue, a “minimal outcome” would really be acceptable? In our view, we have been working on this for far too long to produce a minimalist outcome.

Two regional trade agreements that include fisheries subsidies have been negotiated in less than half that amount of time, and these agreements set the bar for us here at the WTO.  Anything less than those minimalist, regional disciplines would be viewed by the outside world as a real “loser” for the WTO.

For our part, we have made clear through our various proposals that we are ready and willing to support clear prohibitions and new limitations on future subsidy programs.  We hope that others will use the summer break to have some serious conversations in capitals about whether they are willing to do the same.

The United States remains ready and willing to engage constructively and actively in moving these negotiations forward to a successful, meaningful outcome that actually changes the status quo.