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United States Doha Round Initiative to Prohibit Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

March 21, 2007


WASHINGTON, DC - United State Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab announced that the United States submitted in Geneva today an extensive proposal for new rules on fisheries subsidies in the World Trade Organization (WTO) as part of the Doha Development Round.  The proposal calls for disciplines on subsidies that contribute to substantial global overcapacity in the fishing sector and the overexploitation or depletion of many commercially important fish stocks. 

“This is a clear win for trade, the environment and sustainable development,” said Ambassador Schwab.  “Many WTO Members want an agreement on fisheries subsidies that is strong, simple, and enforceable.  The WTO faces an historic opportunity to resolve a serious problem that distorts trade and damages the environment.  U.S. and other fishing communities that are disadvantaged by large subsidy programs.”

The U.S. proposes banning subsidies to enterprises that capture ocean fish commercially.  “Tough fisheries subsidy disciplines are an essential complement to strong fisheries management programs to ensure that wild fish stocks remain sustainable for future generations,” said Ambassador Schwab.  The U.S. proposal also addresses ways to avoid circumvention of the new rules, transparency, periodic review of the agreement’s implementation, transitional arrangements and the potential use of fisheries experts in WTO disputes.  Programs that generally do not contribute to overcapacity and overfishing – for example, programs to decommission fishing vessels and reduce fishing capacity, and programs to enhance marine resources – would be exceptions to the ban if they meet certain conditions. 

The United States has consistently been a leader in pressing for stronger fisheries subsidies rules, working closely with a broad coalition of developed and developing countries including New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

The U.S. proposal, which was developed in consultation with U.S. Government agencies, Congress and the private sector, is available on USTR’s website,


Negotiations on fisheries subsidies are taking place in the WTO Doha Development Agenda (DDA) Negotiating Group on Rules.  The Group’s mandate is “to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries.”  The proposal submitted in Geneva today builds on earlier U.S. positions and suggestions presented by other trading partners and sets them out in a comprehensive framework in the form of legal text.  During the negotiations, the United States submitted proposals on a number of specific issues, including a text proposal on the treatment of buyback programs in 2006. 

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75 percent of the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited, fully exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, while global subsidy levels are estimated conservatively at between $10-15 billion annually -- approximately 20-25 percent of the $56 billion commercial trade in fish.  The FAO reports that fish provide more than 2.6 billion people in the world – many of them in developing countries --with at least 20 percent of their total animal protein intake.  In addition, fish is one of the most highly traded food commodities in the world.  The FAO estimates that exports account for 38 percent of world fish production, with a continuing rising trend.  For developing countries, the total value of fish net exports is $20.4 billion in 2004 – a figure considerably higher than for any other commodity including rice and coffee.

For further background, see USTR’s fact sheet on the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations (December 2005) at