Fisheries subsidies are at the heart of a new round of negotiations at the WTO, which is due to end on October 29. It is a race against time with the objective set by the United Nations to arrive at a text signed by all member countries by the end of the year. The goal is to stop overfishing globally. Scientists agree on the fact that numerous public aids lead to an increase in fishing capacity. When a state funds the modernization of boats or exempts fishermen from fuel tax, fleets are able to fish more, leading to additional pressure on the fishery resource.
In 2001, the WTO therefore embarked on negotiations at the global level, with the objective of “Clarify and improve the existing rules on fisheries subsidies”. The difficulty is that such an agreement must be adopted unanimously by the 160 member countries. However, they have never managed to agree on common rules. In 2017, the United Nations (UN) urged the organization to find an agreement by the end of 2020 to meet its sustainable development goals. The question is urgent: the proportion of fish stocks, which are within biologically viable limits, increased from 90% in 1974 to 65.8% in 2017, according to the UN.
The date has been postponed to the end of 2021, following the Covid crisis. However, negotiations still skid on the opposition between developed and developing countries. The former would like to ban all subsidies, unless measures are taken to maintain the sustainability of stocks (such as fishing quotas). “This is the case of the European Union, which considers that fishing in its waters is sustainable, while there are questionable practices, comments Frédéric Le Manach, scientific director of the NGO Bloom. When Europe defends this measure, it is a way of maintaining the status quo. “
Another point of opposition, the “Special and differential treatment” : negotiations relate to temporary exemptions for certain developing countries. Other countries with the lowest incomes would like to be totally exempt. The question is delicate because among the developing countries in the eyes of the WTO are countries such as China, Indonesia, Vietnam and India, which alone account for more than a third of world production in 2018. , according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“An ambitious agreement would be an agreement which would completely eliminate subsidies”, in the eyes of Frédéric Le Manach. According to a simulator from the NGO Pew Charitable Trusts, created by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara and made available to negotiators, “A WTO agreement eliminating all destructive subsidies would lead to a 12.5% increase in the world’s biomassial of fish by 2050 ”.