World Trade Organization on International Fishing Subsidies

The World Trade Organization has been dealing with a number of challenges ranging from the pandemic to reforming the dispute settlement process and transitioning to a greener economy.

World Trade Organization Ministerial Meetings are typically help every two years, but progress on trade issues has stalled after the latest was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Jeff Schott, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it will be important to restore momentum.

“We need to deliver progress on what our societies expect of a well-functioning, multilateral trading system. Enforceable rules, and I emphasize enforceable, because otherwise the rulemaking doesn’t have much value, so we have to both fix the dispute settlement system and upgrade the rule book.”

Ignacio Garcia Bercero, Director of Multilateral Affairs at the EU commission, says there was progress on fishery subsidies leading up to MC-12, but more work is still needed on special and differential treatment.

“That’s the most difficult issue that needs to be solved but it takes political will, it takes attention. There is no reason why we should not be able to come to a conclusion. It would be a great signal of confidence in the WTO if we could conclude the argument on fishery subsidies.”

Schott says the issue of forced labor will also continue to complicate talks on fishery subsidies.

“I do not underestimate the difficulties with trying to get consensus or compromise on these special and differential treatment provisions because those provisions essentially gut the major disciplines that are needed in constraining deep water over-fishing.”

He says developing countries like India are also pressing to maintain the status quo essentially blocking opportunities for trade reform

“What that’s leading to is a great difficulty in Geneva and getting the type of comprehensive agreements going forward, and leading countries, including and notably China, should develop the plural labs or the regional platforms, that the countries are going to increasingly move to if the WTO cannot address the new challenges in international trade and investment in the 21st century.”

He says the special and differential treatment provisions were meant to inspire investment in developing countries and instead have become a way for countries to hide behind protective tariff and quota walls.

Earlier this week, the WTO held a virtual meeting to discuss the possibility of holding a virtual ministerial conference to make up for the cancelled one.


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