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WTO snatches historic fisheries deal

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These are negotiators exhausted by lengthy discussions who presented themselves to the press in Geneva this Friday, June 17. ” I’m so tired “, dropped Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), after having lost the thread of one of her answers. Negotiations began on Sunday and lasted until 4 a.m. on Friday.

Long bogged down negotiations

A tiredness, however, tinged with satisfaction. The Nigerian has announced a deal “historical” between the 164 members of the organization on the patents of anti-Covid vaccines, on food insecurity and fishing. This last point is perhaps the most decisive step forward: the negotiations had been bogged down since their launch in Doha… in 2001.

Their goal ? Prohibit fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and remove those that promote illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. According to the WTO, fishing receives between 13 and 51 billion euros in subsidies each year: they lead to overcapacity and development not indexed to fishery resources.

Limit illegal fishing

States have finally put an end to illegal fishing subsidies. The UN estimates that 20% of fish catches are illegal, whether they are protected species or quantities not respected. These catches alter the sustainable management of the resource. “It is difficult to have precise data on the subject but the impact of this rule will depend on surveillance capacities”Judge Tristan Irschlinger, who attended the negotiations in his capacity as an expert in fisheries policies for the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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Second point of agreement: coastal states will now be responsible for prohibiting fishing subsidies in overfished areas. The red alert is regularly drawn on the state of resources: according to the FAO, the antenna dedicated to food of the UN, nearly 4 species out of 10 are not exploited in a sustainable way.

Another point torn off in extremis, despite the opposition first displayed by China: it will no longer be allowed to pay subsidies for fisheries in international waters where there is no analysis of the state of the stocks. .

Important result

Still, a significant part of fisheries subsidies is not included in the framework of the agreement, in particular subsidies for the construction of vessels or for fuel. Countries like India opposed it, asking for a transition period of twenty-five years. The country wants to ramp up its fleet in the meantime. It has adopted an ambitious plan in this direction in 2020.

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A half-hearted agreement? “We have been negotiating for twenty-one years: even if the agreement is partial, rather than negotiating year after year without reaching conclusions, we have managed to say what we all agree on”, rejoiced Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for Trade, also welcomed “an important result of global significance. »

New negotiations coming soon

States will have to quickly come back to the table. A final article has been slipped at the end of the agreement: if within four years of its ratification, an additional agreement is not found on the remaining subsidies, the whole thing will lapse.

“This puts pressure on the States which could have been satisfied with this agreementanalyzes Tristan Irschlinger. This will force them to negotiate tougher rules with those who want to go further. And for the latter, since they want a more complete agreement, they have every interest in ratifying the current agreement as soon as possible to start the rest of the negotiations. »

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