Update on WTO fisheries subsidies talks

Links to some key documents and news

Fishing boats | Edi Libedinsky via Unsplash CC0

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED APRIL 21, 2021 | UPDATED AS INDICATED

The drive for a WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies accelerated in 2021 and eventually led to a slightly stripped down agreement at the Geneva Ministerial Conference in June 2022.

The first target had been missed to conclude all or most of the subject by July 2021, but the aim was still for a formal agreement to be struck at the ministerial conference at the end of the year. That was postponed, and negotiators headed into 2022 aiming to conclude as quickly as possible. Agreement was achieved on June 17, 2022.

Updates will be added here for the latest developments, with links to new documents and news items.


June 17, July 13, 2022— WTO members agree on the final fisheries subsidies text (see also identical draft sent to ministers). Article 5, originally on “subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing”, is stripped down to brief provisions on “other subsidies”. The agreement would terminate after four years of entering into force if “comprehensive disciplines are not adopted”, unless the General Council agrees to extend it.

A cover page accompanying the agreement is a protocol, ie, a legal instrument for adding the agreement to the WTO rule book as an amendment annexed to the WTO Agreement. A document certifying that the protocol is a “certified true copy” was circulated on July 13.

The agreement now goes to members to ratify (“accept”) it. It enters into force in the ratifying countries after their number has passed two-thirds of the membership. It does not enter into force in countries that have not ratified it. See explanation.

Photo of Wills on the phone during all an all night session
All-round praise: Santiago Wills’ handling of the fisheries subsidies agreement received acclaim at the Ministerial Conference | WTO

June 10, 2022 — Chair Santiago Wills submitted his latest draft to the June 12–15 Ministerial Conference, “without prejudice to any Member’s positions or views, whether or not reflected herein”. Attached was a 23-page explanatory note. He told delegations:

“I am very pleased to say that, this evening, I finished working on a revised draft of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which has been sent to ministers for their consideration at [the Ministerial Conference]. In some places the draft text is my best attempt to suggest an outcome that I think is most likely to attract consensus. In some areas I am delighted to say it is not my work at all. Instead, the text presented came from groups of members with very different starting positions and who, working together, resolved their differences and presented to the plenary a text they could all accept.

“Overall, the draft Agreement sent to ministers this evening represents my best and honest effort at presenting to them a draft that is as clean as possible with only a few decisions for them to focus on, negotiate, and agree. After over 20 years, it is long past time for the WTO to deliver on its promise to agree to rules that will stop subsidies for illegal and excessive fishing.”


May 20, 2022 — At the end of five days of negotiations, the chair, Santiago Wills briefed the media on progress made and the on remaining differences, and called for agreement on the text in the week of May 30, 2022. His statement to the media is here. See also this Twitter thread, and the WTO website news story.


April 7, 2022 — “In Focus: A Draft WTO Agreement to Curb Harmful Fisheries Subsidies”, a 10-minute video explanation of the draft by Alice Tipping and IISD


February 15, 2022 — “From these various consultations, I got the general sense that members are interested in using the current period to continue trying to make progress toward concluding the negotiations as soon as possible,” the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia told an informal meeting. (Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations reports on consultations with members, WTO news story)


December 10, 2021Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations outlines next steps for work in the new year (WTO news story) Fisheries subsidies negotiations aim to conclude as quickly as possible in the new year, the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia reported.


November 26, 2021WTO General Council decides to postpone Ministerial Conference indefinitely (WTO news story)


November 24, 2021 — revised 9-page draft (WT/MIN(21)/W/5) and 18-page explanation (WT/MIN(21)/W/5/Add.1) issued as official ministerial documents. See also this WTO news story, including statements by the chair. One issue seems to be settled: it’s proposed as an “agreement”


November 18, 2021If ‘fisheries subsidies’ is agreed by WTO ministers, what then? The implications of the next procedural steps are little known. This could still take some time


November 8, 2021‘A lot rests on Members’ shoulders’ — sixth WTO fisheries text circulated, including chair’s statement for media. Links to the chair’s revised 8-page draft (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.2) and 20-page explanation (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.2/Add.1). See also this WTO news story


October 29, 2021 — The WTO website reports a possible breakthrough, but gives no details. Talks chair Santiago Wills says:

“I continue to have a strong sense of optimism that we will conclude these negotiations, notwithstanding the differences that we still need to bridge. The next few weeks will not be easy as this is the time to bridge those differences. I will be continuing to reach out to different members in different configurations, to listen carefully and to prepare the ground as much as possible for MC12 [the November 30–December 3 Ministerial Conference].”


October 4–5, 2021 — As negotiators worked through the chair’s draft, there were signs that transparency might be a compromise alternative to banning fuel subsidies that are not directly for fishing (India’s new proposal; EU willing to consider). But members remain divided on (1) transparency from developing countries although the African Group suggested technical assistance to achieve this might help, and (2) the US proposal for countries to supply information on use of forced labour.

Members remained blocked on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — how to determine fishing is IUU, and whether prohibitions should apply only to IUU boats or to whole fleets containing IUU boats.

Daily meetings are scheduled for October 11–29, going through the draft line by line.

See also WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies hit “dark” patch, SeafoodSource, October 8, 2021


September 24, 2021 — Negotiators discussed new papers from India and the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries (with the African Group), with little sign of movement towards compromise. Several delegations said India’s proposal was not oriented towards a solution and “had no element that could help bring about a compromise between members” (see Amiti Sen in Hindu Business Line, September 26, 2021).


August 30, 2021WTO members gear up for marathon fishing subsidy negotiations starting September (WTO website)


July 15, 2021Optimism after WTO ministers meet on fisheries subsidies, despite splits, including links to other reports and more information. See also: WTO news story, opening and closing statements by the WTO director-General and the negotiations’ chair, video of press conference


June 30, 2021Fisheries subsidies chair floats new text 15 days before ministers meet, including chair’s statement for media. Links to the chair’s revised 8-page draft (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.1) and 17-page explanation (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.1/Add.1). See also this WTO news story


May 27, 2021The use of forced labor on fishing vessels, US proposal


May 11, 2021New fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame, including chair’s statement for media. The 9-page new text is here, with a 26-page explanation (and correction, June 9) from the chair. See also this WTO news story


April 21, 2021Ministerial meeting eyed for July as fisheries subsidies negotiations enter final phase (WTO news story). See also this from AFP


April 21, 2021 — Negotiations’ chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia: summary of statement to the meeting (WTO news) and statement for media


Negotiating at distance: the podium in the online talks | WTO
Negotiating at distance: the podium in the online talks, Okonjo-Iweala (centre left) and Wills (centre right), April 21, 2021 | WTO

April 21, 2021 — Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement to heads of delegations in the negotiations, including a proposal for a meeting with ministers in July. Now also on the WTO website


April 12, 2021DG calls on WTO members to narrow remaining gaps in fisheries subsidies negotiations (WTO news story)


December 2020 — the chair’s draft consolidated text has been leaked here.


WTO news archive: fisheries subsidies


Main photo: Fishing boats | Edi Libedinsky via Unsplash, CC0

Author: Peter Ungphakorn

I used to work at the WTO Secretariat (1996–2015), and am now an occasional freelance journalist, focusing mainly on international trade rules, agreements and institutions. (Previously, analysis for AgraEurope.) Trade β Blog is for trialling ideas on trade and any other subject, hence “β”. You can respond by using the contact form on the blog or tweeting @CoppetainPU

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