Author: The European Union
Few issues demonstrate better the challenges that are at the centre of protecting the environment and supporting economic development, than the efforts to manage global fisheries. The overall picture remains alarming across the globe.
More than 30 per cent of the world’s marine fisheries are overfished – a tripling since 1974 – and almost 60 per cent are at the limit of sustainability, according to estimates of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In this context, many countries the world over subsidize their fishing activity in ways that contribute strongly to this overfishing. Since putting limits on damaging subsidies is one of the specialities of trade policy, it can play a crucial role here.
This issue has been part of the so-called Doha Round of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Attempts have been made to also address it in free trade agreements, and piecemeal efforts have been undertaken recently to discuss the issue between smaller groups of countries but none of these efforts can lead to wide-reaching, sufficient solutions, as it is argued by the European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and that of the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella.
“A broad, multilateral agreement covering all 164 countries of the WTO will be key to achieve meaningful progress in order to help safeguard the world’s fisheries. As we are talking about a truly global problem, just like for climate change, only a global solution will be enough to tackle it,” wrote the commissioners in a blog post.
That is why the European Union is making a proposal to restart WTO negotiations on the issue of fisheries subsidies. The proposal from the Commission has now been given the green light of EU Member States, and will be presented to all WTO members later this week.
In the article co-written by Commissioners Malmström and Vella, they point out that last year’s adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by Presidents and Prime Ministers set an unambiguous target. Governments are to prohibit – through the WTO, and by 2020 – “certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies”.
So, “the task is clear: transform this commitment into effective, targeted global action. Our priority at this moment must be to address the two most harmful types of subsidies.”
- The subsidies that increase the capacity of fleets to catch fish, since they directly lead to overfishing. These co-called ‘capacity enhancing’ subsidies represent the majority of funding to fishing activity, according to estimates almost 60 per cent. As a result, the global fishing fleet is far too large to ensure sustainable fishing.
- The subsidies granted to fishermen who engage in illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing, resulting in the depletion of fish stocks and the devastation of natural habitats.
The rules the European Union is proposing would target exactly these kinds of subsidies.
“Taking decisive action does not mean ignoring the needs of fishing communities in least developed and developing countries. Fishing is a source of subsistence and income for many, and an integral part of the daily life and traditions of communities worldwide,” explain Commissioners Malmström and Vella.
It is, therefore, crystal clear that we need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. While the rapidly growing capacity of industrial fleets needs to be addressed, subsistence fishing needs to be protected.
“Developing countries must also be allowed to build up their fleets, as long as the main objective of safeguarding sustainable global fisheries is protected. So our EU proposal foresees flexibility for developing countries, while ensuring the sustainability of fisheries globally,” they stress in their article.