WTO Ministerial Decision on Fisheries Subsidies: Highlights

WTO members wrapped up their 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires on 13 December with a commitment from members to secure a deal on fisheries subsidies which delivers on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 by the end of 2019. They also committed to improve the reporting of existing fisheries subsidy programmes.

In addition, members took a number of other ministerial decisions, including extending the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions for another two years, and they committed to continue negotiations in all areas.

Under the ministerial decision on fisheries subsidies, members agreed to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations with a view to adopting an agreement by the next Ministerial Conference in 2019 on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The creation of fisheries subsidies disciplines received new impetus after the adoption by world leaders in September 2015 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDG target 14.6 sets a deadline of 2020 for eliminating IUU subsidies and for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries.

Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference:

During the conference, WTO members also agreed the following:
1. Work Programme on Electronic Commerce
2. TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints
3. Work Programme on Small Economies
4. The creation of the working party on accession for South Sudan

The Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce: On investment facilitation, 70 WTO members, recognizing the links between investment, trade and development, announced plans to pursue structured discussions with the aim of developing a multilateral framework on investment facilitation. The proponents, who account for around 73 per cent of trade and 66 per cent of inward foreign direct investment (FDI), agreed to meet early in 2018 to discuss how to organize outreach activities and structured discussions on this topic. Signatories also encouraged all WTO members to actively participate in this work.

The Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development: On MSMEs, 87 WTO members accounting for around 78 per cent of world exports issued a joint statement declaring their intention to create, multilaterally, an Informal Working Group on MSMEs at the WTO that would be open to all members.

However, no agreement was possible in a number of the substantive issues that were under discussion at the conference. One key area where no agreement was possible was public stockholding for food security purposes. Many members regretted that this was not possible despite the mandate to conclude negotiations at MC11. Other issues under the agricultural negotiations pillar also were not concluded.

Ministers expressed their disappointment over the lack of progress, and gave their commitment to continuing to move forward on the negotiations related to all remaining relevant issues, including to advance work on the three pillars of agriculture (domestic support, market access and export competition) as well as non-agricultural market access, services, development, TRIPS, rules, and trade and environment.

The MC11 Chair, Minister Susana Malcorra, issued a Chair’s statement which she presented to the Closing Ceremony of the Conference.

The Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) will take place from 10 to 13 December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Conference will be chaired by Minister Susana Malcorra of Argentina.

The Ministerial Conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 members, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. Under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the Ministerial Conference is to meet at least once every two years.

The last Ministerial Conference took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2015.