Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland, chairing the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, has circulated a fresh draft text aimed at curbing subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. This move is part of a concerted effort to push these negotiations towards a successful conclusion at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) scheduled for late February 2024. The newly proposed document is a culmination of members' inputs, proposals, and discussions, including those from the recent "Fish Week" meetings held in December. It is intended to facilitate intensified negotiations in January.
Ambassador Gunnarsson emphasized the critical juncture at which the negotiations stand and expressed hope that this new draft would assist in bridging the remaining gaps in member positions as they enter the final phase of negotiations leading up to MC13. He stated, "We stand at a critical juncture for successfully concluding the second wave of negotiations on fisheries subsidies. It is my hope that this new draft of the disciplines on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, which draws on members' tireless work these past months, will help them to bridge the remaining divides in their positions as we begin our final push to conclude the negotiations in time for MC13."
The chair further outlined the upcoming schedule, highlighting a "fish month" of continuous negotiations after the holidays, leading up to the mid-February deadline for preparing texts for MC13. Despite the limited time frame, he expressed confidence in the potential for reaching a consensus, stating, "While the time is short, I believe we have the elements necessary to reach such an outcome, and all members have indicated that they are ready to work hard."
During the last Fish Week in early December, members were unable to reach an agreement on additional fisheries subsidies disciplines that would build upon those established in the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, adopted in June 2022 at MC12. Nevertheless, they reaffirmed their commitment to intensify their efforts in the new year to meet the target of concluding negotiations by MC13, scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from February 26 to 29.
The revised draft text contains elements that are familiar to members from previous drafts and discussions, including the "hybrid approach" that combines an indicative list of subsidies contributing to overcapacity or overfishing with a sustainability test. It also incorporates the "two-tiered approach," subjecting the largest subsidizers to more scrutiny.
Additional elements covered in the draft text include: a discipline addressing subsidies contingent on fishing outside the subsidizing member's jurisdiction, special and differential treatment provisions, notification and transparency provisions, and an open section for any other provisions related to overcapacity and overfishing.
The proposed disciplines, in conjunction with special and differential treatment provisions, would categorize members into three groups based on their subsidies:
- A group comprising the 20 largest subsidy providers, subject to the strictest scrutiny.
- Members to be excluded from the core prohibition on subsidies, including least-developed countries and developing members with a small share of global marine catch.
- Members not falling into the above categories would need to demonstrate compliance with sustainability-based conditionality in their regular notifications of fisheries subsidies.
Ambassador Gunnarsson emphasized that the core discipline should lead to a meaningful reduction in subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing through both the prohibition itself and a rigorous committee review procedure. This process is integral to the effective implementation of the discipline.