Bipartisan Coalition of U.S. Senators and Congressmen Appeal to USTR Ron Kirk: America Needs a WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement
Press Release Date: July 6, 2011
Location: Washington, D.C.
In two letters, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives today urged U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk for renewed leadership as the World Trade Organization (WTO) considers new rules on fisheries subsidies in anticipation of its ministerial meeting in December. The members stressed that a core priority of the U.S. at the WTO must be the reduction of government subsidies responsible for driving the world’s oceans to the brink of collapse.
In a letter led by trade leaders Congressmen Ron Kind (D-WI) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), and signed by 30 members of the House, the bipartisan group stated that, “U.S. leadership on this issue will demonstrate the potential the WTO holds for tackling issues of trade and the environment. We believe strong provisions to reduce and control global fisheries subsidies are a ‘must have’ for the United States at the WTO, and we ask that you ensure a timely and ambitious agreement on this issue is produced from the present negotiations.”
Recognizing the administration’s commitment to economic growth and environmental protection, a letter from trade leaders Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) highlighted the urgency of a WTO fisheries subsidies agreement and the consequences to the economy, jobs and environment if the United States fails to act.
“Commercial and recreational fisheries supply more than 2 million jobs in the United States. Subsidies unfairly disadvantage American producers and workers, and they undermine coastal communities by reducing the costs of operations for foreign fishing fleets and increasing the number, size, and power of boats competing for fish. Subsidies also undermine U.S. trade opportunities in potential export markets,” the bipartisan group of 12 senators wrote.
The fisheries subsidies negotiations present an historic opportunity from both development and environmental perspectives. Since the creation of the WTO, citizens in the United States and around the world have been calling for trade policies that support a sustainable path for economic growth. Today, new rules to eliminate those subsidies which contribute to overfishing would be the most prominent and concrete environmental achievement in modern trade policy.
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 are severely depleted from overfishing. 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.
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. 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. 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.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the 153-country organization responsible for negotiating the rules governing international trade and settling related disputes. In 2001, recognizing the relevance of subsidies to trade and the importance of a healthy fishery resource to commerce and development, the WTO initiated a dedicated negotiation on fisheries subsidies as part of its Doha trade agenda.
For more information, please visit www.cutthebait.org.