In a new report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) emphasises the urgency of advancing negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO)towards an international agreement to ban harmful government fishing subsidies and to introduce new measures to ensure the sustainability and future viability of the world's oceans.
UNEP's new publication, 'Fisheries Subsidies, Sustainable Development and the WTO' is a timely reminder that the clock is ticking and that oceans cannot wait. It reviews efforts to escalate fishing subsidies reform within the global trade body over the last decade, and focuses on the hurdles governments now face to determine which subsidies to stop and which ones to limit. In addition to providing significant potential economic benefits, fisheries are also an important source of livelihood and food, serving as the main source of protein for nearly a billion people worldwide.
Yet, 80 per cent of the world's commercial fish stocks are depleted or have been fished beyond their biological carrying capacity, and economic losses due to over-capacity and over-fishing have been estimated at US$50 billion per year. Government subsidies have been recognised as one of the primary causes of this excessive exploitation, which in turn has threatened the integrity of the marine environment.
'This is an enormous waste of natural capital and it is threatening food security, development and the marine habitat,' said Steven Stone, Chief of UNEP's Economics and Trade Branch. 'These harmful fisheries subsidies run contrary to the very ethos of a Green Economy, which promotes investing in the environment as an engine for economic recovery and sustainable growth,' he added.
The UNEP publication underscores why government subsidies for the fishing sector must be more transparent and accountable if the rules agreed by the WTO are going to be effective. It outlines several challenges that must be addressed, including defining the scope of the subsidy prohibition, identifying exceptions that will be allowed, ensuring special and differential treatment for developing countries, and establishing fishery management requirements. It also urges all countries to take action to reform their own subsidy practices.
The publication is a comprehensive reference manual which provides a historic overview, synthesis and analysis of key issues regarding fisheries subsidies reform and the current development of fisheries subsidies negotiations at the WTO. It also contains country experiences from Ecuador, Norway and Senegal, which illustrate the impact of subsidies and reform processes. Accompanying the manual is also a CD-ROM containing additional relevant source material from other organisations.
UNEP has played a leading role in generating policy-relevant analysis and in facilitating effective dialogue for policy-making between the trade and fisheries communities. Currently, the UN organization is assisting by feeding the outcomes of its country studies and international workshops on the impacts of fisheries subsidies into the ongoing WTO negotiations, which will help to ensure that these discussions are consistently based on sustainability criteria.
Notwithstanding the critical phase of the current negotiations and the many questions that need to be resolved, the report illustrates how fisheries subsidies reform has the potential to become one of the most important international efforts to achieve environmental, economic and development coherence at the global level.