Statement by Ambassador Shea: WTO Heads of Delegation Meeting on Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations

Rules Negotiating Group
WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations
Heads Of Delegation Meeting

Statement delivered by Ambassador Dennis C. Shea
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization

18 September 2020

Thank you, Santiago, for your report and reflections on the week, as well as outlining your plans for the intersessional period leading up to the October meetings.

Based on what I heard from my team, led by Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Kelly Milton, I agree that the process you have undertaken and outlined for future work is constructive. While there clearly continue to be significant areas of disagreement, your decision to focus on discrete elements of the draft text is the approach most effective in helping us understand each other’s positions.

And while some Members continued to be reluctant this week to engage in text-based discussions leading to possible text-based solutions, we believe your approach of looking at the text in bite-sized, manageable pieces offers the best chance of making tangible progress.

As for next steps, we are not convinced that continued discussions of Article 5.1, the generally-worded prohibition on subsidies contributing to overfishing and overcapacity, is a promising area to make much progress.

Briefly put, there is a reason why several Members from different continents have proposed a capping approach.

Time and again, we have seen proposals crafted around prohibiting other Members’ subsidies, and exempting their own, through innumerable exceptions and exclusions.

With that said, we are willing to continue to work on Article 5.1, at least intersessionally, to enable a clearer understanding of Members’ views with respect to this Article.

More broadly, the United States endeavored to be as constructive as possible this week. Even in areas where we are not demandeurs, we came forward with ideas for drafting solutions, either in the form of clarifying the legal language in the draft consolidated text, or trying to bring coherency to an illustrative list of subsidies that reduce costs or increase revenues.

Together with other co-sponsors, we also put forward a revised version of our joint notifications and transparency text, so as to allow a text-based negotiation of a core element of the discipline that will be key to the success of any future agreement – that of enhancing transparency of Members’ current and future subsidy regimes.

In engaging in the discussions this week, we were struck by a couple of impediments to progress that we hope we can overcome.

Despite the mandate to ban harmful subsidies, some delegations made categorical objections to considering any conservation or environmental criteria in crafting our prohibitions. This categorical position closes off important avenues for reaching agreement, and seems contradictory to the commitments everybody has already undertaken in the past twenty years as well as to the clear sustainability goals within our mandate for these negotiations.

We were also puzzled by many of these same delegations objecting to transparency commitments and strong prohibitions on subsidies to distant water fleets, even though they themselves do not provide these kinds of harmful subsidies to their own fishing fleets.

During the upcoming intersessional period, the United States will continue to do our part to contribute constructively to move the negotiations forward, even if for the moment it only means illuminating the nature of our divergences.

The key to any progress will be to avoid stale discussions about process and sequencing of work, and rather get down to the business at hand to meet our mandate – not only for the good of the fish, but for the good of this institution. We don’t have time to waste.