30 September 2021

Public Forum Event: Catching development – Acting together for sustainable fisheries trade


SDG 14.6 has given a clear mandate to the WTO to discipline fisheries subsidies while respecting the mandate of special and differential treatment (S&D). This panel, organized by the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Handelskampajen discussed the implications of negotiations for development and sustainability.

Margaret Nakato, Executive Director of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF) discussed the ways that the current proposals on subsidy prohibitions would unfairly target small-scale fishers and threaten their livelihoods and development aspirations. This failed to recognise the multifaceted nature of small-scale fishing and risked many other SDGs form being achieved. She raised the concerns that the failure of the current text to limit subsidies to large-scale fishing would threaten the fishing grounds of small-scale fishers. She reiterated the call to protect developing countries so they have the opportunity to contribute to their development through rights to livelihood, food, and the rights over their fisheries resources.

Professor Mukesh Bhatnagar from the Centre for WTO Studies highlighted the many issues currently facing the negotiations. On Overfishing and Overcapacity he explained the approaches being discussed including the hybrid approach, the issues with Article 5.1.1 and India's “Polluter Pay” principle that targets distant water fishing nations. Prof. Bhatnagar discussed the role of Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries and the need for it to be effective and appropriate citing India's proposal by exempting LDCs, exempting low-income resource poor fishing up to the Exclusive Economic Zone of a member, a 25 year transition period for developing countries not engaged in distant water fishing and an exemption for developing countries with less than 1% share of marine catch.

Peter Lunenborg, Senior Programme Officer (South Centre) highlighted how large scale fishing attracts the majority of subsidies and catches the most fish yet has a lower socio-economic impact and is less environmentally sustainable. Current draft WTO instrument on fisheries subsidies offers many flexibilities for large scale fisheries. There is no guarantee that subsidies to large scale fisheries will decline and might effectively keep such subsidies in place, especially subsidies provided by WTO Members which have the capacity to provide information to the WTO. As a result, sustainability objectives would not be achieved and developing countries would be curtailed in their policy space

Rachmi Hertanti, Executive Director Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ) voiced strongly the need to ensure that small-scale fishers aren't burdened with the prohibitions under any outcome at MC12. She pointed out the precarious nature of small-scale fishers in Indonesia and the reliance that exists on government subsidies. Ms Hertanti also highlighted the diversity of geographical realities, especially with archipelago character, sometimes allows small-scale and traditional fishers to easily exceed 12 nautical miles of territorial waters. The current exemptions being proposed would be insufficient to protect the livelihoods of these small-scale fishers. She called for subsidies for small-scale and traditional fishers in developing and least developed countries to be a priority as the target group for an S&DT outcome.