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At 8th WTO Ministerial Conference, United States Urges Continued Work on Fisheries Subsidies

December 16, 2011

Geneva, Switzerland – The United States today joined a number of WTO Members at the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in a Ministerial statement expressing continued support for an ambitious outcome on fisheries subsidies in WTO negotiations, and readiness to explore additional avenues for results even as an impasse continues in the Doha Round of world trade talks. The Ministerial statement references the need for openness towards new and innovative approaches to the negotiations, as well as other bilateral, regional and multilateral opportunities. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued the following statement as well:

“The United States strongly supports this Fisheries Subsidies Ministerial Statement, and we urge continued work toward an ambitious outcome on fisheries subsidies under the WTO. As today’s Ministerial statement indicates, the status of the world’s fish stocks is grim, and the trend continues to worsen. This problem of declining catches is particularly acute for developing countries, in Africa and elsewhere, where populations are especially dependent on fish as a source of protein. Inaction is not an option.

“The United States remains committed to an ambitious result on fisheries subsidies. We stand ready to explore new negotiating approaches that can move us towards the elimination of harmful subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.

“This problem will not solve itself. WTO Members have a duty to address one of the root causes of overfishing and overcapacity – the fisheries subsidies that encourage fishing enterprises to fish longer, harder, and farther than would otherwise be sustainable without subsidy aid.

“The United States is ready to continue this work in the WTO and in other appropriate fora – including free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other bilateral, regional and multilateral initiatives.”

The text of the Ministerial Statement is as follows:

Fisheries Subsidies Ministerial statement on behalf of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, United States

1. Today we reiterate our commitment to agreeing ambitious, effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies. In this context we press for the prohibition of harmful subsidies to the fishing sector that contribute to overfishing and over capacity and recognize the importance of appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing countries. We stand ready and urge other members to join in recommencing our work on fisheries subsidies, including by more fully exploring different negotiating approaches consistent with the Doha and Hong Kong Ministerial mandates.

2. The current Doha negotiating impasse should not become an excuse for doing nothing, because we are not dealing with a static problem. Subsidies continue to be a major contributing factor in the depletion of the global fish stocks. Billions of dollars a year are spent by governments on harmful fisheries subsidies, amounting to tens of billions of dollars that governments have used to underwrite the costs of fishing activity since Doha negotiations started. At the same time the percentage of global fish stocks considered by the FAO to be fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or in recovery has increased from 75% in 2002 to 85% by 2010.

3. The problem is not just an environmental one; it is also a question of trade, economics and development. Subsidies create serious distortions in global fish markets leading to less revenue for fishermen and serious impacts on food security and livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. Eliminating harmful subsidies that result in diminished global fish stocks could also ensure the fisheries sector continues to thrive and provide employment for all countries including in artisanal fisheries of developing countries.

4. Given this situation, we urge all WTO members to reform and eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity through individual, joint, regional or multilateral initiatives. Effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies will be a win for trade, a win for the environment and a win for development.

Geneva, December 2011