The heads of delegation meeting took place at the end of the first week-long cluster of meetings in fisheries subsidies for 2021. During the week, members discussed several important issues that will have to be resolved for an agreement. One of these was the question of so-called non-violation complaints (NVCs). Under current WTO rules, NVCs in the context of trade in goods and services can be brought by governments to the Dispute Settlement Body if one member can show that it has been deprived of an expected benefit because of something another member has done, even if it has not broken the rules.
Other issues discussed during the week were reference points used to show fishing is within biologically sustainable levels and a proposal to exempt artisanal fishing from some of the rules. The chair also used the time to conduct a series of bilateral meetings with individual delegations and the coordinators of some groups of members. Delegations also used the opportunity to hold their own meetings.
On Friday afternoon, when he reported to the heads of delegation, the chair informed them about the meetings he had held, saying he had consulted with over 20 delegations since the start of the year. He also said he found the cluster of meetings to be a constructive start to 2021 and that he was encouraged by members’ shared sense of urgency to conclude negotiations. Ambassadors taking the floor at the end of the week echoed this sentiment while also underlining the need to break persisting impasses on core elements in the negotiations. Many also expressed the view that WTO members must deliver an agreement as soon as possible this year.
To this end, the chair told members he intends to call a second cluster of meetings on 15-19 February. In addition, members will continue the practice of meeting “inter-sessionally.”
Based on the mandate from the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference and the UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 14.6, negotiators have been given the task of securing an agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.