Dear colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen, good morning. It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the WTO Workshop on Fisheries Subsidies for the Asia region.

Let me start by warmly thanking the Government of Malaysia for hosting this event and for the very warm welcome you have extended to all of us today. Thank you also 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 world in the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies, and 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 last of eight regional workshops on fisheries subsidies that the WTO Secretariat has been conducting in various regions across the globe since November 2022.

The sustainability of fisheries is becoming increasingly urgent for nations around the world as deterioration of fish stocks continues unabated. As a continent surrounded by oceans and home to numerous globally important fisheries, as well as many artisanal fishing communities, Asia is responsible for the management and conservation of a significant portion of the world's marine resources. With millions in the region 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 for the long term.

Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies

Let me now turn to what we — what you — achieved last June at the WTO's 12 Ministerial Conference (MC12). Your governments worked hard, together with other WTO Members, to successfully conclude the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. This 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, especially 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 Asia — 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. These subsidies can 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 is therefore a tangible leap forward in the race to preserve our ocean and its precious living resources.

Implementation and ratification

Of course, the Agreement's tangible benefits will take hold only when WTO Members implement its provisions. 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.

One of the primary reasons that I am here in Kuala Lumpur is to urge you to deposit your instruments of acceptance as soon as possible. While previous agreements and amendments have typically taken a few 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, which is an urgent matter for all WTO Members, both coastal and landlocked. Indeed, all Members depend on a sustainable source of fish, and generally on a healthy ocean ecosystem.

Achieving entry into force by next February 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 Asia 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, including its coastal WTO Members. I congratulate Singapore for its leadership in being the first Asian Member to deposit its instrument of acceptance — and the second of the seven Members to have done so thus far.

I know that many of you have your domestic acceptance processes well under way, and I very much appreciate your efforts. One important aspect of this workshop will be to discuss these processes for formal acceptance and 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. We are here for you, and our doors are always open.

Funding mechanism

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 and be in compliance with 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, Canada, and Germany, with others to follow shortly. Assistance will be available through the Fund to all WTO developing and LDC Members only once they deposit their instruments of acceptance. Therefore, assuring that you are eligible to receive this support is another important 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 Asian Members. Ministers agreed to conclude these further negotiations by MC13. WTO Members, including Asian Members, have been working very hard in Geneva over the past couple of months to advance work on 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 Asian region can achieve these three 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 and interacting with you for the next two days. Thank you.




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