Opening Statement by the Director, Programmes and Initiatives, Zarak Khan, at the PIFS-WTO-IISD+PEW Regional Workshop on Fisheries Subsidies for the Pacific



Nadi, Fiji

22 July 2019

  • Strahinja Ivanovic, Representative of the WTO;
  • Alice Tipping, representative of International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD);
  • Senior Officials from Trade, and Fisheries Ministries of the Forum Islands Countries WTO Members;
  • Officials from the Geneva-based Pacific Missions,
  • Representatives of Regional Fisheries Organisations – from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)
  • Representatives from PIFS in Suva and Geneva
  • Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Madame Meg Taylor, I welcome you all to Nadi, Fiji, to the Regional Workshops on WTO Fisheries Subsidies for the Pacific Officials.   I particularly welcome the senior Pacific Trade and Fisheries Officials who are participants for the Workshop. I extend a warm welcome to the WTO Secretariat and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Pew Charitable Trusts representatives, as the Organisers and main Facilitators to the workshops. Further, let me also welcome the regional fisheries organisations, in particular, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Agency (FFA) for their presence in these Workshops.
It is a pleasure for me to join you this morning to deliver the Opening Statement and since I will not be able to come back on Wednesday, I am delivering this Statement for the two workshops that will be held this week, namely the (i) WTO Workshop from 22-24 July, and (ii) IISD – PEW Workshop from 24-25July.
I wish to thank the WTO Secretariat and the IISD for their close collaboration with the PIFS-Geneva Office to convene these Workshops as well as for funding and organizing the logistical arrangements to facilitate the participation of the Pacific officials. The PIFS has a long-standing co-operation with the WTO Secretariat which has been providing valued technical assistance to the Pacific WTO Members over the years, at an average of two regional activities per annum.  This Workshop is the first activity this year and will be followed by a short WTO Regional Trade Policy Course later this year.
I am happy to confidently say that the WTO technical assistance has been translated to assisting the Pacific island countries to effectively participate in the WTO negotiations, and to improving the implementation of their WTO obligations and commitments. The two-thirds/Half of the Pacific WTO Members had completed the ratification process of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. I wish to assure the WTO of the continued commitment of the PIFS, through our PIFS Geneva Permanent Mission to WTO, towards the strengthening our co-operation for the mutual benefit of the Pacific Members.  This year we are also fortunate to have the IISD assistance to provide a separate workshop on the fisheries subsidies.  While it may be new to the region, IISD has a depth of expertise on international sustainable development issues including sustainable fisheries development and fisheries subsidies in particular.
Before I turn to the two Workshops, I wish to turn first to the regional fisheries landscape. In fact, since the 1970s, Fisheries, has been a pillar of longstanding regional co-operation for Forum Members which has strengthened over the years and to-date we have three regional and one sub-regional agencies that are helping Members with different aspects of managing the region’s fisheries resources within the waters of our Member states and in the adjacent high seas. All these to underline the importance of the fisheries sector to our region. Fisheries is a key sector for the livelihood security, as well as the economic and sustainable development of the Pacific Islands.   Fisheries contribute to around 10-20% of GDP in many Pacific Island economies, and the sector provides potential opportunities for economic diversification, investment and employment creation in the future.
In 2015 Fisheries was endorsed by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders as one of the five priorities under the Framework of Pacific Regionalism and has since remained as a standing item in the Forum Leaders’ agenda. Underlying the Leaders’ priority are the twin objectives (i) to strengthen the management of the region’s fisheries resource and (ii) to maximise the economic returns of this resource to the region.  In 2016 Leaders have called for strengthened management including combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF).   In 2018 Forum Leaders have called directly on distant water fishing nations (DWFNs) to eliminate harmful fishing subsidies. These decisions by our Leaders provides the highest political regional mandate on fisheries subsidies. In this connection, the Pacific remains committed to delivering on the 2017 Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference or the MC11 mandate to conclude an agreement on Fisheries Subsidies in 2019 in order to meet the deadline of the SDG 14.6.
The SDG14 on Life below Water also connects to the region’s broader vision of sustainable Oceans. Given the importance of oceans to us as Oceans States, the PIF Leaders adopted in 2017 the Blue Pacific initiative, as the driver of collective action and reflects the Pacific region’s shared values that connect them to their ocean environment and as custodians of the Pacific Ocean.  As a region we are also very much aware of the effects of climate change on our economies including its impact on oceans with ocean warming, acidification, coral reef bleaching, and so forth that affect sustainability of marine resources.  While we’re doing all we can regionally to address the impact of climate change, we need to ensure that the WTO also plays its part in developing strong disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to depletion of fish stocks. The Pacific therefore considers that the WTO Agreement on fisheries subsidies, if appropriately designed, would complement the region’s fisheries management efforts and also contribute to the region’s vision of a sustainable Pacific ocean economy.
Turning to the WTO negotiations, I understand that since MC11 the WTO Members have been working very hard to advance the negotiations in Geneva in order to conclude the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies by the deadline of December this year. The negotiations are centered around four thematic areas of rules on fisheries subsidies to (i) IUUF, (ii) to Overfished Stocks (ii) to Overcapacity and Overfishing and (iv) on Cross-cutting Issues which include scope, transparency, special and differential treatment or S&DT, institutional issues and dispute settlement.   This year, six negotiating sessions have been held and with the additional Facilitator-led processes, the momentum of negotiations have heightened with an increasing number of new and revised proposals on the table including three from the ACP group.
Unfortunately, this momentum was not sufficient to deliver a consolidated text for negotiation in the final phase from September to December.   The four Facilitators’ Reports of July, which includes optional textual proposals on the four thematic areas of negotiations, namely – IUUF, Overfished stocks, Overcapacity and Overfishing, and Cross-cutting Issues, reflect the current state of play and the continuing divergences amongst Members.  I note in particular that the cross-cutting issues which include Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) – an issue of great importance to our region, have not been comprehensively discussed as some Members prefer to negotiate the disciplines first.  This obviously points to the need for more intensive work and engagement to be undertaken in the next phase if the negotiation is to be concluded on time.
With the above context in mind, let me turn to the two Regional Workshops before you and I wish to particularly welcome the timely convening of the two events. I must say that the Pacific is fortunate to be the first region that will be briefed by the WTO Secretariat on the state of play of the Fisheries subsidies negotiations in Geneva, since the July cluster, which marks the end of the Work Program for the 1st half of 2019. These Workshops complement each other and will greatly assist the Pacific officials take stock of the work already undertaken thus far and also prepare for the work ahead.
On the WTO Regional Workshop, I note from the objective of the Workshops is to provide the state of play on the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations and for the participants to engage in discussion on the proposed WTO rules in the light of policies and practices at the national and regional levels.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like now to briefly mention some of the issues that you would expect to discuss under the different pillars of the fisheries subsidies negotiations.
First, on IUU fishing, the discussion will focus on elements such as:

  • what rules or prohibition should apply and who is to determine IUU fishing? Should determination be made only by Coastal States based on their national laws or should Flag States and Subsidizing States be included?
  • the question of the coverage of determination whether you as sovereign states will be making IUU determination only in the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and not on high seas. Whether there should be a role for the RFMOs? What about high seas not managed by RFMOs?
  • the IUU definition – will the new agreement adopt only para 3 of the International Plan of Action (IPOA) on IUU by FAO or other international or should Members negotiate new definition?

Second on Overfished Stock– the discussion relates to questions such as:

  • what approaches could Members take to prohibit subsidies contributing to overfished stock? Three approaches are; (i) List approach (listing of prohibited subsidies that Members could agree to), (ii) effects-based approach (subsidies that have a negative effect on fish stocks would be prohibited), and (iii) a hybrid approach (a combination of a list of harmful subsidies and negative effects).
  • should determination of Overfished stocks be made by Costal States in EEZ and RFMOs in the high seas? What about high seas not managed by RFMs?
  • should stock assessments be the basis for determining Overfished stocks and what should be the reference point for stocks declared overfished?
  • how should unassessed stocks be treated? Should they be assumed overfished?
  • do we have the capacity to conduct stock assessments and what technical assistance and capacity building are required?

Third, on Overcapacity and Overfishing – discussion would focus on the what prohibitions should apply to subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and what approach i.e list vs effects or hybrid approach. These rules would target (i) capital cost subsidies, that enhance capacity to fish, such as vessels construction, vessels modernization, technical and equipment; and (ii) operational cost subsidies such as fuel subsidies, subsidies to fishing equipment and gear, and wages of the crew.  In addition to the prohibition, some Members – USA and Australia, China and Philippines – have put forward new proposals on capping in order to cap and effectively reduce harmful fisheries subsidies.   While the concept of capping could be useful, the current proposals on the table would perpetuate the position of the largest subsidisers and restrict small subsidisers which would adversely affect the Pacific Members’ interests in building their fishing capacity in the long term.  The Pacific Group is reflecting on how to respond to this proposal on capping.
Finally, on the Cross-cutting Issues, questions would include:

  •  the treatment of disciplines in domestic laws, regulations and administrative procedures,
  • should the scope of disciplines include marine, inland waters and aquaculture;
  • is existing WTO dispute settlement mechanism sufficient or should this be modified to include pre-dispute phase of consultation and whether fisheries experts should play a role,
  • what remedies should be applied when violations occur, noting this would be additional to existing remedies (eg fines, suspension of fishing licences) in national fisheries laws? How should minor violations be treated?
  • on transparency what issues should be notified – subsidy programs, capacity of fleets, fish stocks targeted, catch data by volume, value, import/export data? by species?
  • On S&DT, what types of flexibility do Members need – technical assistance and capacity building, policy space?

For Pacific Members, the special and differential treatment provisions are critical to ensure that the disciplines on the fisheries subsidies also serve to address our concerns on combatting IUU Fishing and promoting sustainability of our fisheries resources. In addition, these disciplines should provide policy space to develop our fisheries sector in future as well as technical and capacity-building assistance to implement our obligations.
On the IISD+PEW Workshop, I note that the objective is to assist you as policymakers to assess the implications of the potential new multilateral fisheries rules being discussed, the practical application of these potential rules and how you could actively engage in the negotiations to ensure that the new rules would promote fisheries resources sustainability and the economic development of your own countries.
I have noted from the IISD draft program that technical experts from the Pacific Regional fisheries organisations, particularly FFA, and WPFC are slotted to make presentations on the first day. I wish to also welcome the experts from universities, and those from the research institutions that are directly dealing with work on fisheries species and marine resources, and the Tuna Association representatives who will be making presentations.
The IISD will also present its case study on the Southern Longline tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, which would provide a practical understanding of the real situation of the fisheries subsidies implications, and how the fisheries subsidies rules could assist in addressing such challenges in the longline tuna fisheries. I am confident that it will be an enriching exercise for you all.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, on Friday morning, the Pacific Officials will have a Closed Session to recap on the key points, and ideas that emanate from the discussions in the WTO and IISD Workshops respectively and reflect on the Pacific region’s positions going forward into the September-December negotiations. This is an important Session which aims at reviewing the region’s positions thus far and to revalidate existing or adopt new positions in preparations for the next phase of the negotiations. These regional positions will be a living document during the lifespan of the fisheries subsidies negotiations. In other words, you will continue to adjust these positions, in working closely with the Geneva-based Pacific Missions and the PIFS Geneva Office.
Noting that the momentum has already stepped up in Geneva, we should expect that negotiations will intensify and accelerate in the latter part of the year to meet the deadline in December 2019. This requires the commitment of our Trade and Fisheries Officials in capitals to ensure that our negotiating team in Geneva is provided with timely responses when these are needed, to support our positions.
I therefore encourage you, our Trade and Fisheries Officials to actively participate in these two Workshops and utilise the experts from Geneva as well as regional fisheries representatives attending the Workshops, to ask questions and seek more clarification on the different issues, in order to enhance your understanding of the policy implications of the WTO fisheries subsidies rules.
Before I conclude, I wish to express, once again, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s appreciation to our collaborating partners – the WTO and IISD+PEW for considering the Pacific request to host these two workshops, noting the importance of the fisheries sector to Pacific.
With these remarks, I wish you all successful deliberations and declare the Workshops open.

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