For more than two decades, Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have negotiated how to address the use of harmful subsidies in the fisheries sector. Through extensive U.S. engagement and leadership over the course of these long-running negotiations, the WTO was able to achieve a groundbreaking agreement at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference to discipline harmful fisheries subsidies.
The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is the first ever multilateral trade agreement with environmental sustainability at its core. It contains several important disciplines, including prohibitions on granting or maintaining fisheries subsidies to:
- Vessels or operators engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing or fishing related activities in support of IUU fishing;
- Fishing or fishing related activities regarding stocks that are overfished; and
- Fishing or fishing related activities on the unregulated high seas.
In addition to disciplines on these types of harmful fisheries subsidies, the Agreement includes robust transparency requirements aimed at strengthening WTO Members’ notifications of fisheries subsidies and enabling effective surveillance of the implementation of the obligations in the Agreement.
The Fisheries Subsidies Agreement also requires WTO Members to take special care and exercise due restraint when granting subsidies to fishing vessels that are not flying that Member’s flag, as the practice of vessels flying flags of convenience has been linked to enabling illegal activity, including the use of forced labor. A similar provision requires Members to take special care and exercise due restraint when granting subsidies to fishing or fishing related activities regarding unassessed fish stocks, which can be particularly harmful and may lead to overfishing.
WTO Members also committed to continue negotiations to build on the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement with additional disciplines on fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. Through these continued negotiations, the United States will pursue additional ambitious disciplines. The United States will also continue to urge Members to support greater transparency with respect to the use of forced labor on fishing vessels.
The Fisheries Subsidies Agreement will enter into force when it has been accepted by two-thirds of WTO Members. To maintain the momentum towards a more ambitious agreement, the current agreement will lapse if more comprehensive disciplines are not adopted within four years of entry into force, unless WTO Members decide otherwise.