DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANGELA ELLARD
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I thank the UN for inviting me to highlight the World Trade Organization's recent action in achieving SDG 14.6 on Life Below Water.
Specifically, at our recent Ministerial Conference, our Ministers adopted a new, binding, and multilateral WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies after more than 21 years of negotiations. This agreement is particularly significant because it represents a consensus among our 164 Members, not simply a majority.
The Agreement, for the first time, prohibits subsidies to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing — or IUU fishing — as well as subsidies to fishing overfished stocks, and subsidies to fishing in the unregulated high seas.
This action is badly needed given the alarming, and rapidly worsening, status of global fish stocks. According to some estimates, nearly 50 per cent of assessed stocks are overfished, and subsidies have played an outsized role in creating these dire circumstances. The sustainability of our oceans, the livelihood of fishers who depend on them, and the food security of millions are at risk.
I would like to emphasise a few overarching points about this binding multilateral Agreement.
First, the subsidy prohibitions are broad:
- The Agreement covers the harvesting of all wild living marine resources;
- And the subsidies in question are those connected to fishing, fishing-related activities at sea, fishing vessels, and the operators of those vessels.
Second, the Agreement imposes new and robust transparency requirements on all WTO Members, shining considerable light on Members' subsidies, their measures aimed at encouraging sustainability, and the links between the two.
Third, going beyond the mandate of SDG 14.6, the Agreement establishes a Fund to help developing and least developed Members implement their obligations concerning subsidies, notifications and transparency, and fisheries management. We already have received substantial funding pledges to provide such meaningful technical assistance and capacity building.
Fourth, the Agreement contains an explicit built-in agenda for the future — our Members are committed to achieving additional disciplines to build on what was agreed. Accordingly, they set a deadline of our next ministerial conference in late 2023 or early 2024 to finish this second wave of negotiations.
Concluding this binding multilateral Agreement last month is a tremendous achievement by WTO Members in meeting SDG 14.6, but it does not mean that they can rest on their laurels. The new rules become operational and start delivering for ocean sustainability only when the Agreement enters into force. And this requires two-thirds of WTO Members to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the WTO.
My call to all of you, given the dire state of the ocean, is that we act with urgency so that all Members complete their acceptance processes immediately and that this new binding, multilateral agreement enters into force as soon as possible. And then let’s quickly begin negotiations to set even more disciplines to save our oceans and those who depend on them.