Ministers, DG, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this High-level Pacific Region Event on fisheries subsidies. Let me also take this opportunity to thank the Government of Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for their gracious hosting of a very useful week, culminating in today's ministerial meeting.

The timing and focus of this event could not be better. The event comes soon after both the successful outcome on fisheries subsidies at the WTO's Twelfth Ministerial Conference, or MC12, as well as the adoption of the comprehensive 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. I see many synergies between these two historic achievements, paving the way toward a sustainable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific region, which is critical for the health of the environment and all people. The future of the WTO is green, digital, and about services, which responds to your priorities in the Strategy. Your Strategy is comprehensive and aligns with WTO's work. You are well-placed and prepared to shape the future of WTO's work. And we are here to help you mainstream and anchor these elements through WTO commitments for all.

As your 2050 Strategy underscores, you, the Pacific islands countries, are the custodians of nearly 20% of the earth's surface, including vast swaths of ocean.  In fact, I have seen in my short time here that the ocean is core not only to your economies, but also to the very identity of your people. I saw that in particular yesterday as we met fishers bringing in their abundant catch. They spoke of the challenges of investing in their future, the effect of climate change on their way of life, and their doubts about whether they wish the same life and challenges for their children.

Therefore, given the central focus of the ocean, it is especially appropriate that, through the 2050 Strategy, all of your governments have committed to collective action to improve the health of the ocean and prevent the over-exploitation of its resources. I submit that working together to quickly accept the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies through your domestic processes, and then to implement its provisions, while also negotiating to finalize the outstanding issues in the second wave, are concrete policy steps that align perfectly with the 2050 Strategy. Allow me to elaborate on these points. 

Agreement on fisheries subsidies

Ministers, you and your region played a significant and vital role in the adoption of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies by all 164 WTO Members after more than 20 years of negotiations. The landmark agreement you achieved creates new binding disciplines on some of the most harmful forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to the depletion of global fish stocks. I am grateful for your contribution to this outstanding global achievement for ocean sustainability. The most important part is that WTO members have shown they can conclude a binding agreement with environment at the core.

This region's leadership — your leadership — was essential to reaching that consensus, especially in shaping the portion of the outcome that secured the final deal. I was there with many of you that very long night in Geneva, when the Pacific Islands led the charge to ensure that world does not give up on the second wave of fisheries subsidy negotiations.  I am referring in particular to the commitment that all Ministers made in the Agreement to continue negotiations with respect to subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing — a major priority for the Pacific Group — and to set a hard and fast deadline for concluding that work. It was this final linchpin element that brought all Ministers to a “yes”.

The state of global fish stocks

Why is this historic deal so important? You know better than anyone that the world’s ocean faces enormous challenges.  One of the most fundamental is the dramatic deterioration in global fish stocks, which continues unabated. By some measures, nearly half of assessed fish stocks are overfished, down from 10 per cent in the '70s and about 18 per cent in 2001 when these negotiations began.  Not only does this decline have huge repercussions for marine ecosystems and thus the global environment, it also has grave consequences for millions of people around the world whose livelihoods and food security depend on fishing.

It's quite discouraging that some governments continue to provide fisheries subsidies without regard for their impact on sustainability. These governments thus are investing in the destruction of the natural capital that should instead be paying generous dividends.  WTO and OECD research has found that governments spend about $22 billion per year in unsustainable fishing subsidies. But only $5 billion was spent from 2010-2020 to support the fisheries sector (with only 65% targeting sustainable fisheries.) Just consider what it would mean for fish stocks if that was spent on restoring fish stocks and sustainable fishing instead.

As you know, the Agreement prohibits subsidies that harm fisheries sustainability, namely those to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; those concerning overfished stocks; and those to related to fishing in the unregulated high seas. It thus represents a meaningful leap forward in the race to preserve our ocean and its precious living resources.

Now that the Agreement is included, our Members are engaged in two parallel processes to carry the work forward.

First is accepting the new Agreement. To be able to deliver results, the Agreement must enter into force, which requires two-thirds of WTO Members to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the WTO. As I mentioned, we look to you, as stewards of the Blue Pacific Continent and as leaders in the quest for fisheries sustainability, to complete your domestic processes and deposit your instruments of acceptance quickly, and then to implement the Agreement.  What a powerful signal to the world if you were among the first to take this action.

Second is continuing negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues that could not be agreed at MC12.

In October, we hosted a brainstorming retreat for our Geneva-based Ambassadors to discuss this second wave of negotiations. The main views that they expressed were:  

  • Recommitting to finish these negotiations by MC13, which we anticipate will be in early 2024;
  • Focusing primarily on the overcapacity and overfishing pillar, including special and differential treatment;
  • Starting with a technical, knowledge building phase through workshops before engaging on text (scheduled next week); and
  • Urgently selecting a new Chair for the negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Chair selection process is moving slowly, which impedes work on the issues of great importance to this region. I would encourage you to do what you can, working pragmatically with other Members, to help find a solution so that we have the leadership we need.

A final, but no less important, point on the Agreement — as you know, Article 7 provides for the establishment of a dedicated funding mechanism to support developing and LDC Members' implementation of the new disciplines. I'm very pleased to inform you that as of last Tuesday, we have established this new Trust Fund and it is open to receive donations.  This step represents a promise kept to developing countries, showing that we have their needs top of mind as we focus on implementation of the Agreement.

Technical workshop

Entry into force and implementation were the subject of this week's WTO technical workshop that we held with your experts here in Nadi. The detailed discussions were aimed at highlighting and drilling down into the practical ins and outs of implementation. I hope that it was a useful and informative session for everyone.  I assure you that the WTO Secretariat remains at your disposal for follow-up assistance and advice, including before the new Fund is up and running.

Final remarks

Let me conclude by once again thanking you, Ministers, for your vital engagement in negotiating the Agreement, and in the ongoing WTO work on fisheries subsidies. I also want to express how inspiring I find your 2050 Strategy, and I look forward to seeing it come to life and deliver its benefits for the lives of the Pacific peoples and the world. I'm glad that the WTO can play such a vital part in carrying out this mission.

And let me thank everyone here for your interest in this event. I am sure that in our discussions this afternoon, we will identify important synergies and opportunities for our work together toward sustainable and profitable fisheries around the world.

With that, I wish you fruitful deliberations for the rest of the afternoon.




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