Fisheries subsidies – Fiji not rushing into deal

Fiji believes that the Trade Negotiations Committee revised draft text on fisheries subsidies does not have all the ingredients to conclude the fisheries subsidies agreement.

This was highlighted by the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Faiyaz Koya during the World Trade Organization Ministers Virtual Meeting for Fisheries Subsidies Agreement last week.

The chair of the negotiations, Santiago Wills, of Colombia, introduced on June 30 of this year a revised draft text on fisheries subsidies to reflect the marathon discussions among members and to facilitate discussions at last week’s meeting of ministers.

Mr Koya said Fiji re-affirmed its commitment to conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference. However, members must not rush to conclude any type of agreement.

“We must ensure that the agreement is balanced, meaningful and it delivers on the SDG 14.6. Mandate,” he said.

The Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 by 2020 targets to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, and refrain from introducing new subsidies, recognising that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.

According to the World Trade Organization, its members are negotiating rules to prohibit subsidies that threaten the sustainability of fishing to help to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources.

Mr Koya said Fiji was not satisfied with the current chair’s text.

“Whilst we welcome a few positive changes in the revised text, significant imbalances remain.

“The final agreement must require prompt and significant reductions in the level of subsidies provided by the largest subsidisers.

“Fiji entered negotiations for an agreement to reduce subsidies, not one that will micro-regulate our fisheries management and leave the bulk of subsidies in place.

“We in the Pacific, we have unique interests and challenges, and fish and fisheries are very important to us. Therefore, Fiji will only endorse an agreement that focuses on sustainable development, and the protection and preservation of the fisheries resources, in a manner consistent with our own development needs.

“The one-size-fits-all approach will not work for us, small island developing states. The text is imbalanced against our development and small-scale fishers. It will permanently prevent us from sustainably developing our own resources, by rewarding the existing distant water fishing fleets that have grown on the back of billions of dollars of subsidies.”

On special and differential treatment (SDT), Mr Koya said it is a central part of Fiji’s negotiations for a discipline on subsidies to overcapacity and overfishing.

“We recognise that the text recognises the need for a de minimis provision for small fishing nations, and we welcome this inclusion across the two alternative sets of language but attempting to reduce SDT to time-bound and territorial sea bound carve-outs is simply unacceptable for us.

“In short, the current approach penalises us for never having been major subsidies.

“It is equally outrageous that access to SDT should be conditioned on small island developing states fulfilling onerous reporting requirements on non-subsidy matters. The WTO is not a fisheries management organisation.

“In Fiji, 65 per cent of the population are coastal dwellers and comprises 850 coastal communities whose livelihood is dependent on small-scale artisanal fisheries.

“Hence, sustaining our fisheries is imperative for the socioeconomic prosperity of our nation and the people.

“Special and different treatments must therefore provide policy space for small members like the Pacific, which have healthy stocks to develop their capacity to fish and utilise the resources in the future.”

He said Fiji remains committed to a multilateral trading system and therefore expressed its willingness to further discuss the proposal for an acceptable de minimis threshold of global marine catch as an exemption for small fishing nations in due course.

He added it is of paramount importance that members meet their responsibilities as they look forward to having the right balance of discipline in fisheries subsidies for the sake of their environment, their ocean, food security and livelihoods of their people.