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WWF: WTO again fails to end harmful fisheries subsidies

The 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) came to a close today in Buenos Aires, Argentina, without reaching an agreement to end the environmental harm and trade distortions caused by fisheries subsidies.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided a much needed focus and urgency to these discussions, given its target to prohibit certain forms of harmful fisheries subsidies by 2020. After nearly two decades of talks, a tangible outcome on prohibitions for the most harmful subsidies appeared to be in reach at the Ministerial Conference, yet even efforts to end subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities were blocked.

“Despite global calls for an agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies ahead of the Ministerial Conference, short-sightedness by some governments has yet again undermined efforts to end subsidized overfishing,” said Anna Holl-Buhl, Senior Policy Advisor for Fisheries at WWF-Germany. “It is unfathomable that even efforts to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal fishing were blocked. Subsidized overfishing and illegal fishing, which threatens the health of fish stocks and consequently the livelihoods of tens of millions of people, will continue until a comprehensive and binding agreement by WTO members is reached.”

The only action the WTO took in regard to fisheries subsidies was to promise action by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2019 and to re-commit to implementation of existing WTO subsidies notifications.

“WTO members have no time to waste to meet the 2020 SDG target established by global leaders and deliver on their mandate to produce a comprehensive agreement on eliminating harmful subsidies. WWF reiterates its call for WTO members to address the fundamental problems of subsidized overcapacity in fishing fleets and overfishing. We are now at a critical juncture and the health of our ocean depends on it,” said Leslie Delagran, Senior Fellow at WWF-US.