Thank you, Clarisse.

Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome and thank you for joining this session on implementing the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies — with a focus on the challenges and opportunities for developing Members. I am happy to begin by announcing the launch of our publication on this topic, which I'll be presenting shortly. I'm so proud of what they've been able to do and I really want to take this opportunity to thank the fisheries subsidies team that put this together.

The Agreement

You all know that at our Twelfth Ministerial Conference, WTO Members adopted a new Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. The Agreement is the first broadly-focused binding multilateral agreement on ocean sustainability. It also is the first WTO Agreement with environmental sustainability at its core. I think I have to pause here and share with you the excitement in Lisbon at the UN Ocean Conference, where this agreement was talked about. I can tell you that when this Agreement was announced, the whole hall erupted in clapping and they gave Ambassador Wills a good standing ovation. That is just to tell you that the work you've done — it's the members that negotiated and came to this agreement — the work you've done is recognized elsewhere.

The agreement was urgently needed. In 1970, only 10 per cent of global fish stocks were overfished, according to FAO data. Today, some estimates including that from the Minderoo Foundation in Australia say that nearly 50 per cent of assessed stocks are overfished. An estimated $22 billion per year in harmful government subsidies incentivizes unsustainable fishing. The economic losses are immense — the World Bank put the cost of perverse incentives along with other poor fisheries management at some $83 billion a year in economic losses, without counting the $22 billion in harmful subsidies that I just referred to. Allowing fish stocks to recover could turn around this dire situation, transforming these losses into net benefits and thus economic stability for millions, without the need for subsidies.

Using our system of binding multilateral trade rules to address an issue of the global commons is new, and holds great promise for the WTO, the oceans, and the planet. This in turn has great promise for people: for the many millions of mainly poor people who depend on fisheries for livelihoods, employment and nutrition, ocean sustainability represents economic sustainability to all of these people. This is, of course, what Aid for Trade is about — and I'm telling everyone we will have to change it to Invest for Trade next year, expect to see a new approach — this is what it is about: helping disadvantaged people around the world integrate into, and enjoy the benefits of, the global trading system.

Implementation and assistance

To turn the tide on global fish stocks, reaching the agreement was a vitally important step - but implementing it is what will matter. When fully operationalized and enforced by Members, the new disciplines will both eliminate subsidies to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, to fishing regarding overfished stocks, and to fishing on the unregulated high seas; and will incorporate a sustainability focus into future use of fisheries subsidies.

Implementing the Agreement so that it can deliver on its potential will pose some challenges for all WTO Members, and especially for developing country and LDC Members. For example, these challenges include:

    • integrating fisheries-related elements into subsidy policies,
    • establishing internal systems to ensure that the fisheries-related requirements of the Agreement are taken into consideration in specific ways when providing fisheries subsidies, and
    • meeting the new notification requirements, particularly on fisheries-related information, in addition to information on subsidies.

    For developing country and LDC Members, implementation will take time, effort and money. For these Members, the Agreement provides an extra two years to comply with some of the rules in the form of dispute settlement peace clauses. It also provides for implementation support via technical assistance and capacity building, including through the creation of a voluntary WTO funding mechanism.

    This Fund will be operated by the WTO along with partner organizations, in particular the FAO, the World Bank, and IFAD, and I'm grateful to them for agreeing to partner with us on this. The first two of are represented on today's panel. The Fund will operate to fill gaps in existing assistance and thus ensure that beneficiaries have what they need to fully implement the Agreement. The collaboration with such distinguished and experienced partners will bring enormous technical expertise and knowledge on how best to use the Fund to leverage existing assistance. Donors to the WTO Fund already have pledged around half of our initial target of $10 million, and we are working to get the Fund up and running quickly.  

    Today's session in the Global Review of Aid for Trade comes as we are establishing the Fund, making it a perfect occasion to begin an ongoing conversation among stakeholders on ways and means for supporting implementation of the new disciplines. This involves taking stock of existing bilateral and multilateral assistance for sustainable fisheries, how it relates to the obligations under the new Agreement, and how the WTO Fund can be a catalyst supporting implementation.

The new WTO report

The WTO's new report on “Implementing the WTO Agreement on fisheries subsidies: challenges and opportunities for developing and least-developed country Members” helps set the context for this important conversation. Physical copies have been provided in this room, and the report is also available on the WTO website.

In addition to summarizing the Agreement and what it means for developing country and LDC Members, the report presents OECD data on existing development finance to the fisheries sector, including for sustainable marine fisheries. I want to warmly thank the OECD, also represented on today's panel, for all of the assistance with this information.

Between 2010 and 2020, almost $5 billion in assistance was committed to fisheries in the ocean economy, of which 65% targeted sustainable fisheries. Through this assistance, donor countries and agencies supported the design and implementation of sustainable fisheries policies and practices. This action dovetails perfectly with the sustainability orientation of the new WTO fisheries subsidies disciplines and what is needed to implement them. So this needs to continue and expand.

One telling statistic from the report, though, is that the assistance to sustainable marine fisheries over ten years is dwarfed by the annual $22 billion in harmful fisheries subsidies.

Eliminating these subsidies would in principle unlock a huge amount of resources that could be redirected to promote and support sustainable fisheries management and practices by all Members, including developing and LDC Members. This is what we need to set global fish stocks on a sustainable path toward recovery.

I'm so pleased to have this opportunity today to begin our concrete work in support of full implementation of the new Agreement.

Final remarks

In concluding, let me thank everyone here for your interest in this event. We have an excellent panel for the discussion, with representatives of beneficiaries and donors, and multilateral institutions including our funding partners, as well as the wonderful chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, Amb Santiago Wills, and of course WTO DDG Ellard who also worked so hard on this fisheries subsidies agreement. I know the discussion will identify important synergies and opportunities for our collective work toward sustainable and profitable fisheries around the world. Although I need to leave shortly, I very much look forward to hearing about this discussion. From the WTO side, we will stay fully engaged with all of you as implementation and related support move forward. I want especially thank ambassadors who agreed to be on the panel.

Finally, I want to underscore how important it is that the Agreement enters into force quickly. Given the critical state of the ocean, there is no time to waste. For entry into force, two-thirds of WTO Members need to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the Secretariat. The WTO website and our new publication contain information on this, and the Secretariat stands ready to provide all necessary assistance. I am happy that many Members already started their acceptance processes, and I believe that with Members' commitments, it is absolutely doable for this agreement to enter into force in less than one year. The two to three years we normally have for these agreements to enter into force — we are trying to break that record and have it done in under a year. And I can say that personally, we're pushing this with as many heads of state and government as we can. I was just in Africa at the AU conference and I told them I'd like them to be the first. Then I went to my own country and I told them I want them to be the first. And to the Spanish Prime Minister who came out, I asked him to be the first. We are really looking to see who will be the first. So please, I want all of you to tell your governments to really work at this and so that this agreement be functional and implementable.

So thank you all. I hope you have a wonderful discussion. Please distribute this report as widely as you can. It helps enormously.

Thank you.



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