At the conclusion of the final Fish Week held from December 4-8, WTO members reasserted their commitment to the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations. Despite being unable to reach a conclusive agreement by December, they expressed optimism about achieving a successful outcome at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) scheduled for February. Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland, who chairs the fisheries subsidies negotiations, commended members for their constructive engagement in shaping new disciplines on subsidies aimed at addressing overcapacity and overfishing.
DG Okonjo-Iweala praised the positive atmosphere and members' unwavering hope, saying, "In spite of the difficulties, we still have hope. I found that very constructive. What has also been interesting to me are suggestions on bridging proposals that could possibly bring some of those positions closer. That is hopeful and helpful. Let's keep going. We're going to deliver this."
The chair, Ambassador Gunnarsson, echoed this sentiment and lauded members for their discussions, emphasizing the constructive tone throughout. He acknowledged that while they hadn't met the initial target set by senior officials to deliver a fully-fledged agreement to the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and General Council by the next week, there was still time. He expressed the sense of continued ambition among members to make it work and the need to invest more time and effort before the end of the year.
Ambassador Gunnarsson also indicated the possibility of extending negotiations into the next year, saying, "I don't think we will have Fish Weeks in the coming year but we may have a Fish Month."
In October, senior officials in Geneva had endorsed the objective of concluding the fisheries subsidies negotiations at MC13, scheduled for February 2024, with a target for a final negotiating text by December 2023.
The chair pledged to assess the outcomes of members' discussions and provide a report on the next steps at the TNC meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
The Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies was adopted by consensus at the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022. It prohibits support for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, bans support for fishing overfished stocks, and ends subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. Additionally, the Agreement acknowledges the needs of developing and least-developed countries and establishes a fund to offer technical assistance and capacity building to support their implementation of the obligations. Members had also agreed at MC12 to continue negotiations on outstanding issues to enhance the disciplines of the Agreement.