WTO talks on fisheries subsidies contemplate forced labor and S&DT | News | SDG Knowledge Center
Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Rules Negotiating Group discussed special and differential treatment (S&D), subsidy ceilings, forced labor and a number of additional issues related to transparency, notification and entry into force at meetings June 14-16, 2021. Ministers will meet in July to finalize an agreement.
On June 14, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told heads of delegations that “we still have big gaps” and “much remains to be done to reach an agreement”. Yet she stressed that a result is “within reach”. The chairman of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, called on members to show flexibility and compromise in future meetings in order to refine the draft text.
The Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the Africa Group shared a joint proposal to replace SST provisions in the overfishing pillar of the chair’s text. Major developed countries said permanent exemptions for developing countries, as contained in the joint proposal, were unacceptable, according to a Geneva-based trade official. Some expressed disappointment that this position, rather than support for time-limited exemptions, was still under discussion so close to the end of the negotiations. One country that opposed the proposal said the provision exempting bans from subsidizing developing countries with less than 2.5% of global marine catches would ensure that only five developing countries would be covered by the disciplines.
Brazil presented a proposal for a cap and reduction mechanism, which it had already released in 2020. In an explanatory note, dated May 11, Ambassador Wills said the space for the cap had been released. deleted in the draft consolidated text, “given the significant progress we have made on the basis of the hybrid approach. Several WTO members, including those that had already submitted their own cap proposals, supported a cap approach, arguing that it would allow more ambitious cuts in fisheries subsidies. Other members said they preferred the hybrid approach, as contained in the Chair’s text, which prohibits subsidies on the combined basis of a determination of their impact on fish stocks and an indicative list. harmful subsidies. According to a Geneva-based trade official, a group of developing country members suggested including a “date clause” in the president’s text that would oblige members to open negotiations on the cap at a later stage.
Members discussed a US proposal on the use of forced labor on fishing vessels. The US proposal expands the ban on illegal fishing subsidies to also include bunkering and transshipment. The United States argued that such a proposal is necessary because offshore bunkering and transshipment can exacerbate the problem of undetected forced labor. The proposal also suggests adding a notification requirement for members to report on vessels that use forced labor on an annual basis. Several countries said there are stricter provisions in international labor treaties and questioned the added value of notifications to the WTO. Some observed that forced labor is not part of the agreed mandate for the negotiations, and said the proposal raises additional questions about the link between trade laws and human rights. According to a Geneva-based trade official, the United States has indicated that its proposal does not represent a departure from the negotiations because the proposal uses the sustainability provisions in the president’s consolidated text.
Several developing and developed countries expressed support for the US proposal, and several said they appreciated that the proposal did not affect the structure of the instrument or the timetable for negotiations. Members recognized that a grant agreement could be another tool to tackle forced labor.
On transparency, the current draft provision requires members to submit information on their subsidy programs and fish stocks before they can benefit from exemptions from the subsidy provisions. Members generally agreed that such transparency is necessary for the implementation of the agreement, but expressed varying levels of support as to the degree of transparency required and for which members. Members also discussed the extent to which the WTO should be allowed to review fish stock assessments and conservation efforts.
On institutional arrangements, the chair asked for views on how members view the agreement entering into force. Ambassador Wills said some members have suggested creating a mechanism for provisional application in case entry into force takes too long or a grace period for members to bring measures into compliance if entry into force. force occurs quickly. Members then discussed how a committee would oversee the implementation of the agreement and what additional notifications would be required.
Members considered two additional proposals at a meeting on June 16. A proposal from Chinese Taipei focuses on dispute settlement provisions, including language on the scope of countermeasures in the event a non-conforming member refuses to comply with the conclusion of a dispute settlement. A proposal from Cameroon and Morocco addresses the pillar of overfishing.
On June 25, the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) will meet to discuss the conduct of the July ministerial meeting. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [WTO Press Release]