World Trade Organization

The United States has been a global leader in seeking to discipline harmful fisheries subsidies, promoting the mutual supportiveness of trade and environmental policies, and encouraging WTO Members to pursue a trade facilitative circular economy. The United States is also pursuing discussions on trade and climate measures, to identify and collaborate with other WTO Members on opportunities for trade policies to play a role in addressing climate change.

Fisheries Subsidies

High levels of overcapacity and over-fishing worldwide are a problem of global concern – with governments subsidizing too many boats to catch ever-declining fish stocks.   Global fish stocks are in crisis, with 90% now fully exploited, overexploited or entirely depleted.   At the 2017 WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, trade ministers renewed their call for an “agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU-fishing.”  The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations offer the WTO an historic opportunity to contribute to solutions that benefit trade, the environment and sustainable development.

More information on the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies can be found here.

In the WTO negotiations, the United States continues to aim high to achieve a meaningful multilateral fisheries subsidies agreement, including limits on the world’s largest subsidizers, such as China, the world’s largest producer, exporter and subsidizer.  The United States has been actively engaged in advancing the negotiations and continues to press for ambitious disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies that would apply to all Members regardless of development status, in particular those that are the largest producers, exporters and subsidizers of marine wild capture fisheries.

In addition to pursuing robust disciplines on subsidies for IUU fishing, subsidies for fishing on overfished stocks, subsidies contingent on fishing outside a Member’s jurisdiction, and subsidies to vessels not flying the subsidizing Member’s own flag, in May 2021, the United States put forward a proposal to ensure an outcome in the negotiations can contribute to Members’ efforts to highlight and address the use of forced labor on fishing vessels.  The proposal calls for: (1) the inclusion of effective disciplines on harmful subsidies to fishing activities that may be associated with the use of forced labor; (2) the explicit recognition of this problem and the need to eliminate it; and, (3) transparency with respect to vessels or operators engaged in the use of forced labor.  Ambassador Katherine Tai’s remarks at the July 2021 WTO Ministerial Meeting on the Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations can be found here.

Following the postponement of the WTO Ministerial Conference planned for December 2021, the negotiations remain ongoing.  The United States continues to constructively engage to conclude the negotiations with a meaningful outcome that protects our oceans and supports our fishers and workers.

Recent statements made by the U.S. Mission to the WTO can be found here.

WTO Committee on Trade and Environment

The WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) was created by the WTO General Council on January 31, 1995, pursuant to the Marrakesh Ministerial Decision on Trade and Environment.

Since then, the CTE has discussed many important issues, including:

  • Market access associated with environmental measures;
  • Environment provisions in regional trade agreements;
  • Sustainable materials management, including shifting the resource-use model to a trade facilitative circular economy model;
  • Trade-related provisions in multilateral environmental agreements;
  • Capacity-building and environmental reviews

In November 2020, the informal dialogue on Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD) was launched on the margins of the CTE. In November 2021, the United States formally joined the TESSD initiative, noting its potential to serve as an incubator of new and innovative approaches to tackle trade and environment challenges, such as climate change, and co-sponsored a Ministerial Statement that outlined priorities for the TESSD for 2022. The United States will seek to advance discussions on trade and climate measures, and identify how trade can play a role in addressing climate change. The United States will also continue to advocate for a trade facilitative approach to circular economy, and sustainable materials management and resource efficiency during meetings of the CTE and the TESSD.  

The Ministerial Statement can be found here.

Related links:

More on Environment in the WTO

Dispute resolution involving environment issues

For more information on Trade and Environment work at the WTO click here.