Press Statement, UNEP-WWF High-Level Press Event, Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference

By Monique Barbut

Director, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a co-host of this High-Level Press Event, it is my pleasure to be with you here today to make this brief statement on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme and its Executive Director, Dr. Klaus Toepfer.

It is appropriate that we are here today in Hong Kong to talk about trade reforms and the fisheries sector, given the approximate total annual production value of USD $1.6 billion that wild caught fisheries make to this economy.

This economic importance extends across developing countries as a whole, with net foreign exchange receipts from the sector amounting to USD $17.4 billion per annum, and providing livelihoods for 200 million people. Fisheries also make a huge contribution to food security, with more than a billion people relying on fish as their primary source of protein.

However, the limits of sustainable exploitation of many fish species have now been surpassed. Three quarters of global marine fisheries are harvested at their maximum rate or beyond sustainable levels. Despite increasing capital investment in the fishing industry and bigger and more powerful fleets, global fisheries production has been almost flat for the last few years.

This fisheries crisis not only increases poverty and constrains development, but is also causing potentially irreversible ecological damage in some major marine ecosystems.

The role of subsidies in fisheries depletion

While fisheries subsidies are not the only cause of this depletion, they are an important contributory factor, exceeding USD $15 billion per year, and amounting to roughly 20% of fishing industry revenue worldwide.

There is growing consensus that some types of subsidies do deplete fish stocks, in all but the most carefully managed and monitored populations. Those for infrastructure, capital costs, access to foreign countries stocks and price support, are among the most damaging.

The WTO negotiations aiming to discipline these subsidies do hold out a real hope for more sustainable management of this sector, and this Doha Round mandate is a key opportunity for the trading regime to contribute to sustainable development.

There, nonetheless, remain important technical and legal challenges to doing this. These include:

• First, finding and applying environmental indicators to identify where and when subsidies are creating the most damage. The WTO must formulate rules that draw on the available data and expertise to establish the link between subsidies and environmental harm. This requires more collaboration and exchange with bodies such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, the FAO and UNEP.

• Second, determining which subsidies have a positive impact on the environment, and should be retained. Management programmes, relief efforts for victims of natural disasters and efforts to reduce fishing capacity must be identified and safeguarded, rather than made illegal by new rules.

• Third, reflecting the importance of the sector to developing countries. Space for developing countries to develop future fisheries policies must be maintained, but in a way that does not damage or degrade the resource.

In the past year, a consensus is emerging in the WTO that it’s no longer a question of whether, but of how, fisheries subsidies reform should take place. The evidence of this is clear in the most recent negotiating text.

Acknowledgement that special and differential treatment for developing countries must be built into this reform, is also growing, and recent proposals have begun to explore how expertise from outside organizations, can be applied in these reforms.

All this amounts to real progress towards new rules that address the complexity of fisheries subsidies impacts, while letting the WTO focus on its core trade mandate.

Conclusion

The commitment of the governments represented here today will be critical to securing a win-win outcome for the environment and development from these negotiations. UNEP has been working on these issues since 1997 - and we are now very excited as it is clear that we are poised to move from analysis to action.

UNEP supported much of that analytical work on fisheries subsidies, and we remain committed to advancing sustainable fisheries subsidy reform as it unfolds from here onwards. That is why I am so pleased to be here in Hong Kong, and to host this joint event with WWF, which has also worked untiringly on this issue.

However, fulfilling this task now depends upon governments and their trade negotiators, which makes this the most appropriate point for me to end this introduction, and make way for the Ministers, who have kindly agreed to support this event.

It is Ministers’ decisions and instructions that will determine whether these negotiations deliver real and sustainable reforms to fisheries subsidies. I am confident that we are on track, and look forward to hearing their statements.


 

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