The six Pacific WTO Members, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu successfully participated and influenced the outcome on fisheries subsidies at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12), held from the 12 – 17 June in Geneva.
Led by Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport Minister Faiyaz Koya of Fiji and Forum Chair of the Trade Ministers bloc and supported by Minister Jeremiah Manele of Solomon Islands and Minister Leatinu’u Faumuina Wayne Sooialo of Samoa, the Pacific region demonstrated solidarity in its approach including with its strategic partners through the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group.
The Pacific together with the ACP were instrumental in the final stages of the negotiations with Ministerial Chairs and Facilitators, the WTO Director-General, As well as Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, the United States of America, India, China, Panama, Sri Lanka, and others.
Leading into MC12, fisheries subsidies was the top priority given its significance for the region. The Pacific voices were heard and visible in shaping the “partial agreement” on fisheries subsidies when it was reached during the early hours of Friday 17 June, two days after MC12 was scheduled to end.
While disappointed that a comprehensive agreement on all three pillars was not delivered, the partial outcome is the only legally binding agreement at MC12, focussing on two pillars – prohibition of subsidies to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and to Overfished stocks (OFS) plus notification and transparency. MC12 also agreed that negotiations would continue to include disciplines on Overcapacity and Overfishing (OCOF), Special and Differential Treatment and to reach a comprehensive agreement as mandated by MC11 and SDG 14.6. Negotiations on comprehensive disciplines should be concluded within four years after entry into force, failing which would result in the lapse of the partial agreement. The ACP proposed the four-year sunset clause to ensure that negotiations on OCOF are concluded swiftly.
“The Agreement is not perfect as it consists of a compromise made by 164 countries. But our ocean and coastal communities cannot wait any longer for a perfect agreement. We need a solution now. And we will ensure that the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement is used as a catalyst to further discipline harmful fisheries subsidies,” said Hon. Koya.
“Having a partial agreement is still a major achievement in having an agreement on disciplining fisheries subsidies. This partial agreement allows us a foot in the door, and with the sunset clause, we are ensuring that the door on disciplining harmful subsidies does not close,” added Hon. Koya.
In addition to the partial agreement on fisheries subsidies, the MC12 adopted six other important outcomes in the form of draft decisions and declarations, related to critical issues concerning WTO reforms, trade and environment, MSMEs, women economic empowerment, commerce and enhancing global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. These draft declarations and decisions are now being finalised.
Acknowledging the collective support and interventions at the MC12, Secretary-General Puna noted the solidarity by Pacific WTO members, “in their unwavering commitment towards delivery of a Fisheries Subsidies agreement. The sheer tenacity, determination, and passion of our Pacific at the WTO ministerial was awe-inspiring, especially to the point of taking the entire WTO session into extra time for this issue. It really showed what we can do, when we stand as one, speak as one, to negotiate and deliver as one Pacific region.
This story was originally published at PIF on 27 June 2022, reposted via PACNEWS.