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Top U.S. Trade Official Calls for WTO Ban on Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

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WTO proposal receives endorsement from developed and developing countries;


May 1, 2007
Geneva, Switzerland
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The United States took decisive action today when Peter Allgeier, U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), presented a sweeping proposal to eliminate the massive government subsidies provided by many countries that are driving overfishing and the growing destruction of the world's commercial fisheries.  The May 1-2 negotiations are the first time that the United States proposal has been discussed in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, which are a part of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) or Doha trade "round."  The proposal generated a wide range of support from prominent WTO delegations including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, and Pakistan. 

"The WTO has the ability to reverse one of the most critical environmental challenges in our lifetime by eliminating market-distorting and ecologically destructive fisheries subsidies," said Courtney Sakai, campaign director at Oceana.  "The United States made a bold move towards achieving a successful outcome in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations with its proposal, despite lack of support to end these subsidies by major fishing nations, such as the European Union, China, and Japan."

The U.S. proposal would prohibit all subsidies for wild capture fishing, while providing limited exceptions for support for programs that do not increase fishing capacity such as vessel decommissioning, management and research, marine conservation and fisheries enhancement, fishing community infrastructure, social programs for fishermen, safety measures, and disaster relief.  Oceana is a formal advisor to the U.S. Trade Representative on environmental issues and leads a dedicated task force on fisheries subsidies.  Oceana provided significant input into the United States proposal.

The Bush Administration put forth its groundbreaking fisheries subsidies proposal with the backing of the U.S. Congress.  In April, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution calling for the elimination of worldwide fishing subsidies that promote overcapitalization and overfishing, and United States' leadership in achieving an ambitious outcome from the WTO negotiations.  A prominent group of United States Senators is also expected to issue a strong declaration of support this week.  

"The subsidies lavished on the world's fishing fleets have created a global armada that is creating havoc in our oceans," continued Sakai.  "These reckless government subsidies to the fishing sector need to stop."  

Worldwide fisheries subsidies are estimated at $30 to $34 billion annually, with at least $20 billion being "harmful" subsidies that drive increased and intensified fishing by providing support for boat construction and modernization, fishing equipment, as well as fuel and other operational costs.  The largest overall fishing subsidizers are Japan ($5.3 billion), the European Union ($3.3 billion), and China ($3.1 billion).  According to leading scientists, most of the world's fish populations are in jeopardy from overfishing and if current trends continue will be beyond recovery within decades.  (Science, November 2006). 

Fisheries subsidies also preserve uneconomic and inefficient practices.  A recent study by the University of British Columbia found that high seas bottom trawling would not be profitable without high levels of government subsidies.  This fishing practice is destructive enough that the United Nations has called for it to be severely restricted.  Fisheries subsidies have also been traced to support illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, sometimes referred to as "pirate fishing."  As one example, in 2005 and 2006, Oceana documented numerous boats in the Mediterranean using illegal driftnets.  Many of these boats were the recipients of subsidies from Italy and the European Union to convert to legal nets - a program that has given out more than $200 million Euro ($240 million) - yet were still using the illegal gear.

For more information on fisheries subsidies, visit http://www.cutthebait.org/.