Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

13thMINISTERIAL CONFERENCE : briefing note

Fisheries subsidies

The WTO's work to curb harmful fisheries subsidies is high on many members' agenda. Around 260 million people depend directly or indirectly on marine fisheries for their livelihoods; moreover, global dependence on aquatic food for nutrition is increasing.


The threat of overfishing to fish stocks worldwide is therefore alarming.  It is estimated that at least 34% of global stocks are overfished compared with 10% in 1974, meaning they are being exploited so quickly that the fish population cannot replenish itself.  Government funding - currently estimated at USD 35 billion per year globally, of which some USD 22 billion increases the capacity to fish unsustainably - continues to aggravate this dire situation by enabling many fishing fleets to operate longer and farther at sea than they otherwise could, to the detriment of marine life.

At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, held on 12-17 June 2022 in Geneva, members adopted the historic Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies after working on this issue in the WTO's Negotiating Group on Rules since 2001. Renewed urgency was brought to this work by target 14.6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in September 2015. The Agreement marks a major step forward for ocean sustainability by prohibiting government support for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; fishing of overfished stocks; and fishing on the unregulated high seas.

WTO work on fisheries subsidies continues to proceed on two tracks. First, the Agreement must enter into force, requiring two-thirds of WTO members to take the formal steps to adopt what they agreed to in 2022.  The 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), held on 26 February-1 March 2024, provided the momentum for more members to formally accept the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, with ten doing so in Abu Dhabi. This puts entry into force firmly into reach by mid-year, within a record two years since WTO members adopted the Agreement. The latest list of members that have formally accepted the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is available here.

The second track of work concerns the "second wave" of negotiations to formulate additional disciplines targeting subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, along with corresponding provisions for special and differential treatment to address the needs of developing and least-developed country members. Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland was appointed chair of the negotiations in January 2023 and has convened intensive discussions since then, culminating in a "Fish Month”marathon of meetings in Geneva from 15 January to 12 February 2024.

While WTO members were not able to conclude "second wave" negotiations at MC13 for additional fisheries subsidies provisions despite coming enormously close to doing so, they were able to significantly narrow gaps and prepare the ground for its conclusion. Members broadly signalled their commitment to continue negotiations after MC13.