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Oceana Says WTO Can Still Save the Fish

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Rules Chair Issues New Report Showing Path Forward in Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations


April 21, 2011
Geneva, Switzerland
Contact:
Dustin Cranor ( dcranor@oceana.org | 954-348-1314, 954-348-1314 (cell))




The World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a new report today on the fisheries subsidies negotiations from Chairman of the Negotiating Group on Rules Dennis Francis, also Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago. The 20-page paper describes the large amount of progress made in the fisheries subsidies negotiations in recent months, the consensus by WTO members of the importance and urgency of this issue, and the need for collective action for a successful outcome.

“All recognize that this is a crisis of exceptionally serious implications for all humankind, and particularly for the poor in many countries who are heavily dependent on fisheries as a source of nutrition and employment… Successful subsidy negotiations can help bring about a situation where profitability and economic and environmental stability are mutually reinforcing, contributing to sustainable wealth creation… In order for the negotiations to make significant progress, I am of the view that negotiators will have to focus more on these incontrovertible realities no matter how inconvenient, and less on protecting their short-term defensive interests,” wrote Chairman Francis.

Oceana’s senior campaign director Courtney Sakai issued the following statement from on-the-ground in Geneva in response to the news.

“The fisheries subsidies negotiations is the ‘good news’ of the WTO and must not be forgotten. In contrast to the recent drama by a few countries over narrow issues, a look inside the WTO will find it capable of producing a solution to one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges.

The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations are one of the most important international efforts to stop global overfishing. The urgency of this issue has generated consensus for action from all points of the compass, including countries from North and South and from the very large to the very small.

Major trading nations need to stop squabbling about what can’t be done in the Doha round and instead focus on what can and must be done. It would be a tragedy if fish are the casualty of the Doha round because a few WTO members refuse to take responsibility for serving the common good.

The enormous work done on fisheries subsidies suggests an agreement is achievable. It would be a tremendous waste if the progress on fisheries subsidies is not realized. Countries must heed the call for collective action and use the momentum achieved so far to find a way forward.

The consideration of fisheries subsidies is the first time that sustainability and environmental concerns led to the launch of a specific trade negotiation. The work by the WTO on fisheries subsidies shows the promise of the multilateral trading system to address major environmental problems. A successful outcome on fisheries subsidies could be the first real and tangible example of trade and the environment.

Since the Doha Round started, the world’s fisheries have continued to deteriorate in rapid pace. Governments continue to literally pay fishermen to overfish. The WTO offers an immediate opportunity to address fisheries subsidies on a global scale.

Time is running out for world's fisheries and for the WTO to take action to reverse global overfishing. The world depends upon healthy fisheries. This can only be achieved if the WTO does its part.”

Background Information

The world depends on the oceans for food and livelihood. More than a billion people worldwide depend on fish as a key source of protein. Fishing activities support coastal communities and hundreds of millions of people who depend on fishing for all or part of their income.

But now, nearly all of the world’s fish populations in every part of the world are severely depleted from overfishing and other destructive fishing practices. The situation is so severe that according to leading fisheries scientists, if current trends continue, the world’s fisheries could be beyond recovery within decades.

Despite the precarious state of the oceans, many governments continue to provide significant subsidies that push their fleets to fish longer, harder, and farther away than otherwise would be possible. The scope and effects of these “overfishing subsidies” are so significant that eliminating them is the single greatest action that can be taken to protect the world’s oceans.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. This is the highest percentage since FAO began keeping records and is a 10 percent increase from four years ago.

Destructive fisheries subsidies are estimated to be at least $16 billion annually - an amount equivalent to approximately 20 percent of the value of the world catch.

For more information, please visit www.cutthebait.org.