The Steering Committee of the WTO Fisheries Funding Mechanism recently convened its inaugural meeting on January 31st, with the primary aim of preparing to extend assistance to developing members and least-developed country members (LDCs) for the effective implementation of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard stressed the critical importance of having this support readily available as soon as the Agreement becomes operational.
Ellard remarked, "Today marks a new phase and provides an opportunity to define our future strategy and the way we will progress with operationalization of the Fund. We need to make sure that this happens as fast as possible." She highlighted the fact that 56 WTO members have formally accepted the Agreement, representing over half of the required support needed for the Agreement to come into effect.
She also pointed out the relevance of establishing the Fund in the context of ongoing negotiations, especially in the lead-up to MC13, where discussions are taking place to create additional disciplines on fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. Many developing members have emphasized the need for technical assistance and capacity building to implement these new disciplines.
The Steering Committee comprises representatives from the WTO Secretariat, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Bank Group, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, as well as representatives of donors and beneficiaries. Its primary role is to evaluate applications for assistance and address operational matters related to the Fund. Eligible for assistance are developing members and LDCs that have ratified the Agreement, once it becomes effective.
During the meeting, preliminary discussions were held on four key areas: governance procedures, guidelines for projects and project preparation grants, monitoring and evaluation plans, and transparency and engagement strategies. Working groups were established to delve deeper into these areas.
A total of sixteen donors have contributed over CHF 8 million collectively to the Fund, with an additional CHF 4 million committed. Donor countries include Australia, Canada, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies will necessitate adjustments and enhancements to the legislative and administrative frameworks of WTO members, along with their transparency and notification obligations, and fisheries management policies and practices. Article 7 of the Agreement outlines the creation of a voluntary funding mechanism to provide targeted technical assistance and capacity building for developing and least-developed country members to facilitate implementation.