Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Thank you, Soumaya.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What a powerful message from Sir David Attenborough. A big thank you to him, Silverback Films, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Economic Forum.

Their message could not have come at a better time. Through the Sustainable Development Goals the WTO is mandated to develop binding rules to prohibit certain forms of harmful fisheries subsidies. These subsidies contribute to overfishing and overcapacity, and to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

We have less than three months to meet the end-of-year deadline. If we do not meet this deadline, our marine resources will not wait — they will continue to decline. This should be of pressing concern to all of us.

No one questions the link between government subsidies and the depletion of global fish stocks. A range of urgent actions is needed to reverse this depletion if there is to be anything left for the future. New rules to curb harmful subsidies may not be the full answer, but they will certainly make a very important contribution.

These rules also have economic and social significance. More than 40 million people worldwide earn their living through fishing. And many poor communities rely on fish as their only source of food or economic activity. Depleted stocks mean depleted economic activity for coastal communities, and millions around the world will lose their livelihoods.

Everyone knows that reforming subsidies is a politically sensitive undertaking. Here at the WTO, this goes without saying. Fisheries subsidies are no exception.

First, fisheries sustainability depends on fisheries science and proper management of stocks. However, these are not within the mandate of the WTO. Nor do we have the expertise to do that.

What the WTO can address are the subsidies themselves, as disciplining subsidies already is a core part of our business. The existing disciplines target trade distortions caused by subsidies.

What is new in this negotiation is the sustainability focus of the disciplines. They have the aim of preventing subsidies from depleting fisheries resources, so that everyone everywhere can continue to benefit from those resources for the long term.

Second, finding the right balance between environmental sustainability and economic development is not easy — which is why we have the Sustainable Development Goals.

We find some developing and least developed countries among the top fishing nations in the world. Virtually all fishing countries have some mix of larger-scale and artisanal fisheries. We also know that not all forms of government support to the fishing sector are necessarily harmful.

Given these complexities, we need a nuanced approach to allowing support for poor fishing communities and for other important policy needs. Blanket carve-outs, however, will not do the job.  

Finally, enforceability. Disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies need to be implementable and enforceable — otherwise they would be meaningless. This is what sets the WTO apart from other entities also pressing for fisheries subsidies reform - the WTO has the tool to enforce these rules. So, negotiators are under intense pressure to get it right — they are taking great care over every word of proposed treaty text.

With all of this in mind, we are looking at quite a complex picture.

However, the mandate is clear — eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and prohibit subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing.

And it's time to finish. These negotiations have been going on already for a very long time.

With a looming deadline, the member governments now need to become more pragmatic, focusing on what they have to do to deliver real results.

It is clear today that the harm done by many fisheries subsidies cannot continue. More and more people outside Geneva and outside government circles are aware of this. They are looking to the WTO for a meaningful outcome. The world is now watching because the world cares. So, let's get this done.

Again, I would like to thank IISD, PEW and Friends of Ocean Action for organizing this very timely session, and for launching Sir David Attenborough's beautiful and inspiring video here at the WTO's Public Forum. I look forward to hearing about your deliberations.  

Thank you.




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