With just 10 weeks until a World Trade Organization summit in Argentina, there is a risk that no global agreement will be made to address the issue of overfishing, an UNCTAD official has told a public meeting at the international body's Geneva base.
Close to 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. And for the oceans and billions of people who rely on fish for food and income, this is a disaster.
WTO members could address some of the root causes of this man-made tragedy, including harmful fishing subsidies and illegal fishing activity, and there was hope that a multilateral agreement would come out of its 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December.
But for David Vivas Eugui, an UNCTAD legal officer, time is running out.
“We have the WTO ministerial conference in 10 weeks, and we still lack a common text,” Mr. Vivas told a session of the WTO Public Forum.
“While the various proposals member states have put on the table are a significant contribution towards building consensus, what we really need to do now is to quickly work towards a common text,” he added, referring to the fact that the lack of such a text could slow negotiations.
Asked what would happen if a multilateral agreement is not reached in the Argentine capital, Mr. Vivas said the health of global fish stocks would have to rely on plurilateral and regional solutions, which are less effective.
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“When you are dealing with a global commons problem, this solution is always suboptimal. With global commons you need global solutions, so a multilateral solution,” Mr. Vivas said.
Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by global leaders in September 2015 was one on fisheries. Goal 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea, and marine resources. Within the goal, target 14.6 addresses the problem of harmful fishing subsidies directly, and this has become a priority for UNCTAD.
Estimated at about US$20 billion per year, these subsidies compound the problem of overfishing because they make it cheaper for industrial fishing fleets to operate. And in July 2016, UNCTAD proposed a joint roadmap to end such subsidies, along with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and UN Environment.
Mr. Vivas was speaking at a session of the WTO Public Forum that discussed how agricultural and seafood trade can contribute to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The WTO Public Forum is an annual event held in Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s theme is “Trade: Behind the Headlines”.