DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANGELA ELLARD
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greetings from Geneva! It is a pleasure to speak to you today about the major accomplishment by WTO Members — the binding Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies — in particular, how it will improve ocean sustainability, its significance for the multilateral trading system, and what we must do next.
Let me start with the ways in which this new binding, multilateral WTO Agreement is highly significant and meaningful.
First, by prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to the most harmful fishing practices, the Agreement delivers on UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, after more than 21 years of negotiations — the first SDG target addressed through a new multilateral agreement. This outcome is a result of leadership, pragmatism, and commitment to both multilateralism and environmental sustainability by all WTO Members.
Second, the Agreement marks only the second time since the WTO's creation that our Members have added a new multilateral agreement to our rulebook. The adoption by consensus of this new Agreement thus represents a strong vote of confidence by our 164 Members in the multilateral trading system. The Agreement's adoption during a period of heightened geopolitical tensions is a particularly significant indicator of our Members' ongoing commitment to multilateralism and consensus-based decision making at the WTO. And this gives us hope that the WTO can deliver on other challenges of the global commons, such as climate change.
Third, the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is the first WTO Agreement with a broad environmental sustainability objective. The operation of the new disciplines will make fishing — and the ocean ecosystem — more sustainable by prohibiting subsidies to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing — or IUU fishing — as well as subsidies to fishing overfished stocks, and subsidies to fishing on the unregulated high seas. This will directly benefit the many millions of people in developed and developing countries who depend on the fisheries sector to make a living and as a source of protein, employment, and tradable goods.
As you know, 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 currently overfished, and unsustainable fisheries subsidies are a major cause of this devastation. This decline not only has huge repercussions for marine ecosystems and thus the global environment — it also has grave consequences for the millions of people around the world whose livelihoods and food security depend on fishing. The Agreement will help to turn this around.
Let me emphasize that adoption of the Agreement last June by WTO Ministers did not bring an end to the WTO's work on fisheries. To the contrary, now that the Agreement is concluded, WTO Members are engaged in two parallel processes to carry the work forward.
First is accepting the new Agreement. To deliver its benefits for the ocean, the Agreement must enter into force, which requires two-thirds of WTO Members to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the WTO. Three WTO Members — Switzerland, Singapore, and Seychelles — have already completed their domestic processes and submitted their instruments of acceptance. Many other Members are well advanced in their acceptance processes.
My plea to officials in this audience is to expedite your domestic acceptance processes and deposit your instruments of acceptance to the WTO quickly so that the Agreement can start delivering for ocean sustainability.
The second strain of ongoing work is continuing negotiations at the WTO to resolve the outstanding issues that could not be agreed at MC12.
WTO Members agreed to keep working on a second wave of negotiations, with a view to recommending further disciplines to our next Ministerial Conference, which will take place in just over ten months. A central focus of the second wave of negotiations is on disciplining subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, along with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed Members.
Delegations in Geneva are already actively working on this second wave. We had a very productive week of negotiating meetings at the end of March, which has helped us pave the way for deeper discussions on the best approaches for curbing subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing. And we will have another “fish week” at the end of April to sharpen and deepen those discussions.
In parallel, the Secretariat has been conducting a series of technical workshops in different regions of the developing world, to help government officials better understand the new Agreement, to encourage the Agreement's prompt acceptance, and to equip officials to effectively engage in the second wave of negotiations.
A final, but no less important, point how the Agreement addresses the challenges that implementing the new disciplines will pose, especially to developing and least developed Members. In this regard, the Agreement provides for the establishment of a dedicated funding mechanism to support implementation of the Agreement by such Members. The Fund is up and running, and we have already started to receive donations, with Japan being the first. This action sends a strong signal to developing and least-developed Members that they will receive the assistance they need to implement the Agreement.
Let me conclude by reemphasizing that for this new Agreement to come to life and start delivering its benefits for fisheries sustainability and the lives of fishermen and women globally, we need two-thirds of WTO Members to accept it as soon as possible. So I would just repeat my plea to use all channels at your disposal to encourage your governments to deposit their instruments of acceptance of the Agreement as soon as possible, and to engage actively in the second wave of negotiations so that they can be concluded by next year's Ministerial Conference in February.