WTO aiming to net fishing deal

GENEVA (AFP) – Negotiations on banning billions of dollars in fisheries subsidies are coming to the crunch at the beleaguered World Trade Organization (WTO), with the deadline to net a deal fast approaching.

Disagreements persist, especially over what the outcome might mean for developing countries, while over-fishing continues to strip the seas of a hugely important resource on which millions of people depend for their livelihoods.

Negotiations began at the WTO in Doha in 2001 and got a much-needed boost with the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

That set the end of 2020 as the non-binding deadline for eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

It also bans certain types of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, while providing special treatment for the world’s developing and least developed countries.

Member states have so far failed to reach an agreement but pressed into action by the approaching deadline, negotiators have been beavering away since September on the basis of a confidential working document.

Their work has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and several countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Namibia, doubt the deadline can be met, according to a source close to the discussions in Geneva, where the WTO is based.

Global fisheries subsidies stood at USD35.4 billion in 2018, with USD22 billion of that going towards building up fishing fleets, according to Ussif Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia in a study which is regularly cited by diplomats.