BY BEN BILUA
Trade talks aimed at creating rules to stop countries providing harmful subsidies to their fishing fleets are reaching a climax with much at stake for Solomon Islands and the Pacific.
Mere Falemaka, the Geneva-based Pacific Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has spent the last 8 years of her life working for a good outcome for Pacific nations in these talks.
She says the negotiations must be sealed during the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) that will be held next month.
“What is clear from members, we don’t want to negotiate for another 20 years, and we have the opportunity now to close the deal. Let’s try and do it,” she said.
Subsidies – especially those by large industrial fishing nations – have contributed to many of the world’s fisheries being overfished and to too many fishing boats trying to catch the fish that are left. They have also contributed to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).
Tuna stocks in the Pacific are still healthy but as fisheries elsewhere decline more boats from around the world – including many receiving lucrative subsidies – are wanting to fish here.
“Our leaders have clearly said that we need to put in place the prohibitions for harmful fisheries subsidies,” Falemaka said.
“We are coming from the point of view that yes, you (foreign fishing boats) can access but …should not be subsidised …(to) deplete our stock.
The Pacific has much to gain from an end to harmful subsides, but, as Falemaka acknowledges there are also risks in the negotiations, including:
- that existing subsidies paid by Pacific governments to help small fishers – such as subsidies for fuel subsidies, fishing gear or ice plants – might become illegal.
- that fewer foreign boats will want to fish in the Pacific leaving cash-strapped economies without their usual stream of access fee payments.
- that rules to stop overcapacity (too many boats) will prevent the Pacific developing its own fishing industry. At the moment 44% of the world’s tuna is caught in the Pacific but Oceania (Pacific, Australia and New Zealand) accounts for just 0.3% of global fishing vessels
Members of the WTO have insisted that the agreement be a ‘comprehensive’ agreement meaning there must be consensus on all aspects before the final documents can be approved.
That makes it a high stakes deal.
Falemaka says negotiations will be tough, as they will depend on the political will particularly from the heavyweights.
To ensure the final agreement is tune with Pacific needs, Falemaka says Pacific nations will insist it must:
•Prohibit harmful fishing subsidies to overcapacity and overfishing (OCOF) and IUU fishing; and to provide appropriate and effective special and differential treatment (SDT) for developing countries.
•Preserve access fees/licensing, from the scope of the agreement
•Exempt artisanal small-scale fishing from the Agreement for food security and livelihood reasons
•Provide policy space for small fishing nations and SIDs, to develop their fisheries in future including developing fishing capacity and
•Ensure that rights of the FICs under other international agreements are not undermined e.g sovereign rights to their 200 mile EEZ under UNCLOs. This should ensure they retain their rights to determine IUU fishing, to determine stock assessment, and the right to grant fishing access.
Falemaka says the Pacific group has been very vocal and constructive and has been working with many other developing and small island nations to put a strong case.
Time is running out. The WTO has set a deadline of 29 October for a final text of the Agreement.
This is to allow time for ministerial consideration before MC12, which takes place 20th November to 3 December 2021.