United States Urges WTO Members to Address Forced Labor on Fishing Vessels in Ongoing Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations

May 26, 2021

WASHINGTON – The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) today submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) bringing attention to the use of forced labor on fishing vessels.  The proposal urges WTO Members to help address this global problem in the ongoing negotiations to curb harmful subsidies to fishing activities that may be associated with the use of forced labor, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

“Forced labor harms the lives and well-being of fishers and workers around the world and it must be eliminated,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to fighting forced labor wherever it occurs. We will continue to work closely with our partners and allies to promote a fair international trading system that addresses the sustainability of fisheries resources, and benefits workers and citizens around the world.”  

In addition to the human cost, forced labor gives fishing vessels who engage in the practice an unfair cost advantage. It also exacerbates overfishing and the depletion of the world’s oceans. Recognizing the link between forced labor and the harmful subsidies that may also go to these vessels is an important step in tackling this pervasive problem.

“The WTO has an opportunity to address this issue with a meaningful agreement that increases transparency and accountability in global supply chains,” added Ambassador Tai. “I urge WTO Members to consider the full range of trade tools at our disposal to combat forced labor and other exploitative labor conditions.”

The U.S. proposal also calls for WTO Members’ explicit recognition of the forced labor problem and the need to address it, and proposes additional transparency with respect to those vessels or operators that use forced labor. For several years, WTO Members have been engaged in multilateral negotiations to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, including subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and subsidies to vessels engaged in IUU fishing.  The United States has played a leadership role in seeking a meaningful outcome, both in effective disciplines on harmful subsidies to protect our oceans and fisheries resources, and supporting our fishers and workers.

A copy of the U.S. proposal is available here.