“I met a wide variety of members and groups holding different views on different topics. Although there were different ideas about the specific timing, most, if not all, expressed a clear commitment to concluding these negotiations as quickly as possible,” the chair said at a meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules following two weeks of consultations with members on key provisions in the draft agreement and on next steps.

“I was very encouraged to hear some new indications of additional flexibility and willingness to compromise. All of this suggests there is room to manoeuvre even on the toughest issues ahead of us, and indicates we are quite close to getting this done,” he said. “We just need to keep working in a careful and solution-oriented mode to finally get there.”

WTO members on 26 November agreed to postpone MC12, due to start on 30 November and run until 3 December, after an outbreak of a particularly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus led several governments to impose travel restrictions that would have prevented many ministers from reaching Geneva. This marks the second time that the pandemic has forced a postponement of MC12. The meeting was originally due to take place in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Under the mandate from the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in 2017 and the UN SDG Target 14.6, negotiators have been given the task of securing agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.

Just days before the postponement, Ambassador Wills had submitted a draft agreement on fisheries subsidies for the consideration of ministers. The draft is based on the collective efforts of WTO members and represents for the chair the most likely way to build consensus after more than 20 years of negotiations, without undermining the sustainability objective.

“Although MC12 has not yet been held, the text remains on Ministers' desks, and we thus need to apply a high standard and discipline as we continue the work of the Negotiating Group,” the chair said.

Consultations and next steps

Despite the postponement of MC12, members have continued work on the draft agreement, with informal consultations being held on the issues of territoriality in Article 11.3(b) and special and differential treatment provisions under the overcapacity and overfishing disciplines in Article 5.4.

The chair suggested members start off the new year by continuing to work on issues where further technical work is needed.

“I would ask Heads of Delegation to use some of your time over the break to consult with your relevant authorities so that when we next meet, your instructions are up-to-date and we can re-engage in the way that we need,” the chair said.




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