DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANGELA ELLARD
Good morning to Mr. Khamis Mwalim, Deputy Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries in Zanzibar, representing his Minister. Dear colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen, a good morning to you as well.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the WTO Workshop on Fisheries Subsidies for the English-speaking African Region.
Let me start by warmly thanking the Government of Tanzania for hosting this event and for the very warm welcome you have extended to all of us today, and for the excellent collaboration we have had with you and your colleagues in making all of the arrangements for this workshop.
Our WTO Technical Workshops on Fisheries Subsidies are aimed at enhancing the participation of developing and least developed country Members of the WTO all over the globe in the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies, and in facilitating their implementation of the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. This is a very important part of our technical assistance and capacity building activities. The WTO has brought you together here as experts of your respective governments to discuss challenges and opportunities related to fisheries subsidies and to exchange experiences and best practices in this area. This is the seventh of eight regional workshops on fisheries subsidies that the WTO Secretariat has been conducting in various regions across the globe since November 2022.
Sustainability of fisheries is becoming increasingly urgent for nations around the world. As a continent surrounded by oceans and home to numerous fisheries, Africa is responsible for the management and conservation of a significant portion of the world's marine resources. The African Union's Agenda 2063 recognizes the importance of sustainable fisheries and ocean conservation in achieving the continent's socio-economic aspirations. To this end, all of your governments have committed to collective action to maintain and improve the health of the ocean and prevent the over-exploitation of its resources. With over 12 million people in Africa depending directly and indirectly on the marine fishing industry for their livelihoods, it is crucial that we work together toward sustainable management of our ocean resources.
Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies
Let me now turn now to what we — and what you — achieved at MC12.
Your governments worked hard to help WTO members successfully conclude the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies at the Twelfth Ministerial Conference last June. The outcome was a landmark for the WTO and for multilateralism.
It is the first WTO Agreement with environmental sustainability at its core, and only the second new and binding multilateral agreement reached at the WTO since 1995.
The Fisheries Subsidies Agreement is proof that multilateralism and the WTO can deliver consensus-based results even in these times of increased geopolitical tension, including on pressing issues of the global commons and shared goals, like the SDG target 14.6.
Why is this historic deal so important? It is no secret that the world’s ocean faces enormous challenges, one of which is the dramatic decline in global fish stocks, which continues unabated. By some estimates, as many as 50% of assessed global fish stocks are already depleted, with more at risk. Not only does this decline have huge repercussions for marine ecosystems and thus the global environment, it also has grave consequences for millions of vulnerable households around the world — including so many in Africa — that depend on fishing.
What is even more discouraging is that many governments continue to provide fisheries subsidies without regard for their impact on sustainability. Such fisheries subsidies are estimated at USD 35 billion per year globally, of which some USD 22 billion are capacity- and effort-enhancing. Such subsidies enable many fishing fleets to operate longer and farther at sea, to the detriment of marine life. The subsidizing governments thus are investing in the destruction of the natural capital that should instead be paying generous dividends.
The new Agreement prohibits certain subsidies with the most harmful effects on the sustainability of fisheries, namely those to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, those concerning overfished stocks, and those to fishing in the unregulated high seas. It thus represents a tangible leap forward in the race to preserve our ocean and its precious living resources.
We know that IUU fishing currently costs Africa as much as USD 2.3 billion in economic losses each year, that more than 30% of African fish stocks are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, and that the health of African fisheries would improve if foreign fleets were not paid to fish in the unregulated high seas just beyond the EEZs' of African countries.
Given all of this, it is evident that the new disciplines are highly beneficial to your countries.
Implementation and ratification
Of course, the Agreement's tangible benefits will take hold for Africa and the rest of the world only with implementation. A critical step here is to secure the Agreement's entry into force, which will happen when it has been formally accepted by two-thirds of all WTO Members.
A big reason that I am here in Dar es Salaam is to urge you to deposit your instruments of acceptance as soon as possible. Although previous agreements and amendments have typically taken three or more years to enter into force, we are aiming to enter this Agreement into force by our Thirteenth Ministerial Conference next February in Abu Dhabi. This urgency is for the sake of ocean sustainability. It's important for landlocked nations as well because they depend on a sustainable source of fish imports. Achieving this goal will require hard work and determination by your governments and those of other Members. But given the critical importance of this Agreement to all Members, I firmly believe that we can get this done by then. Swift ratification across Africa would be a powerful sign of this region's leadership at the WTO, and of its recognition of what the Agreement stands to deliver for the continent's coastal states. I congratulate Seychelles for its leadership in being the first African country to deposit its instrument of acceptance — and one of the four Members to have done so thus far.
I know many of you have this process well under way, and I very much appreciate your efforts. One important aspect of this workshop will be to discuss your domestic processes for formal acceptance, to share experiences and inspiration. And please do not hesitate to reach out to the Secretariat for support — over the next few days and afterwards. Our doors are always open.
A second focus of the workshop will be to go through the Agreement's provisions in detail and discuss what it will take for each of your governments to implement the new accord, and how the Secretariat can be helpful.
As you know, Article 7 of the Agreement establishes a dedicated funding mechanism to support developing and LDC Members as they upgrade fisheries management capacity and implement the new disciplines. The fund is up and running, and has already received its first contributions, from Japan and Canada, with others to follow shortly. Assistance will be available through the Fund to all WTO developing and LDC Members once they deposit their instruments of acceptance. Making yourselves eligible to receive this support is a further tangible reason to deposit your instruments as quickly as possible. This Fund is evidence that we will be with you every step of the way as you implement.
Second wave of negotiations
The final issue this workshop will address is the ongoing ‘second wave’ of negotiations on the questions that Ministers were not able to resolve at MC12. These include curbs on subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, while accommodating the needs of small-scale and artisanal fishers, a priority for many African Members.
Ministers agreed to conclude these further negotiations by MC13. Meeting this target would benefit the continent: the economic losses associated with overfishing in Africa are estimated at around USD 3 billion per year. WTO Members, including African Members, have been working very hard in Geneva over the past couple of months to advance work on the second wave of negotiations, and we just completed our second Fish Week in Geneva last week.
In conclusion, Africa would be a big winner from a strong outcome on fisheries subsidies by MC13 — both the agreement's entry into force and the successful completion of the second wave of negotiations.
I know that you will make the most of the opportunity of this workshop to brainstorm with each other on how best the African region can achieve these two objectives, for the sake of the ocean and the people who depend on it.
With that, let me wish you a very productive workshop. I look forward to being here for the next two days. And once more, I also look forward to receiving your governments' instruments of acceptance very soon.