UN expert urges reform of fishing subsidies at world trade talks

14 December 2005 – At the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong today, a United Nations environment expert urged adjustment to the over $15 billion in annual fisheries subsidies worldwide which amount to roughly one fifth of fishing industry revenue and contribute to the dangerous depletion of global fish stocks.

“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,” said Monique Barbut of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) told the gathering, which is part of the socalled Doha Round of trade talks which aims for more equitable terms for developing countries.

Ms. Barbut pointed to a growing consensus that some subsidies do deplete fish stocks in all but the most carefully managed and monitored populations. Among the most damaging are those for infrastructure, capital costs, access to foreign countries stocks and price support, she said.

“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,” she added.

She said the economic importance of fisheries extends across all developing countries, with net foreign exchange receipts from the sector amounting to $17.4 billion per annum, 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, Ms. Barbut stressed.

She emphasized that harmful subsidies must be differentiated from beneficial ones that discourage over-fishing, for example, and that special treatment for developing countries must be built into fisheries subsidy reform, noting that recent proposals have begun to explore how expertise from outside organizations, can be applied in the area.

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