25 June 2021–As the World Trade Organisation (WTO) fisheries negotiations intensify in Geneva, the Pacific WTO Trade Ministers participated actively at two important meetings this week. The two meetings are in preparation for the WTO Ministerial Meeting that will be held on 15 July 2021 which will assess the state of play of the negotiations of the fisheries subsidies agreement and try to narrow the existing differences amongst the WTO members. The fisheries subsidies agreement is expected to be adopted at the WTO Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) that will be held from 30 November to 3 December 2021.
The first was a special Ministerial meeting of Pacific ACP States that are WTO Members which was convened on Tuesday, 22 June 2021 to discuss the ongoing WTO’s Fisheries Subsidies Agreement negotiations. This meeting discussed key issues for Pacific members in preparation for a major meeting of Trade Ministers of the Organisation for Africa Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) on 24 June 2021, as well as the WTO Trade Ministerial Meeting on 15 July 2021.
Ministers from the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Senior Officials from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu attended the special meeting, chaired by the Solomon Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade , Hon. Jeremiah Manele. Ministers considered the proposed new WTO rules on harmful subsidies, and how these new rules would support global effort to eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing activities (IUU), and reduce overcapacity and overfishing as well as other exploitive and destructive fishing practices. The prohibition of fisheries subsidies would in turn ensure the health and resilience of oceans and the sustainability of global fish stocks.
“The key interest of the Pacific ACP States in these important negotiations is to promote national economic development aspirations ,” said Manele. As such, it is in our interest to push for the exemption of access fees, the exclusion of small-scale and artisanal fisheries, and for the removal of the unduly onerous and unfair reporting obligations on developing States, among others.
In his opening remarks, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Deputy Secretary General Dr. Filimon Manoni said that “the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement must take account of the interests of Pacific Members now and into the future, by preserving access fees which are important revenue sources for many of our Members; providing flexibility for small scale and artisanal fishing for livelihood security; and in securing policy space to build our fishing capacity in future”
Ministers stressed the vital role that the fisheries sector plays in their national economies, and the need for policy space to develop their fishing capacity, under the special and differential treatment principle mandated in SDG14.6, and in particular, to preserve small scale artisanal fishing and to facilitate technical assistance, and capacity building.
Ministers adopted common Pacific positions and a strategy for the upcoming meeting of the OACPS Ministers, and the WTO Ministerial Meetings. The Chair of the meeting, Hon Jeremiah Manele was appointed as lead spokesperson for the Pacific Ministerial Group for the upcoming meetings. The Chair encouraged Members to continue to work together as a group to successfully conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations which is important in addressing the sustainability of fish stocks and the economic development of the region.
Members acknowledged the important role of the PIF Secretariat including the PIFS Geneva Office in the co-ordination of the Pacific positions, providing technical support to Pacific Missions in Geneva and in the representation of their interests in the WTO.
On 24 June, the Pacific WTO Trade Ministers joined their counterparts in the OACP States to take stock of the current negotiations and prepare their positions for the WTO Ministerial Meeting on 15 July 2021. The OACPS Ministerial Meeting was chaired by the Co-ordinator of the ACP Group, Hon Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica. The ACP Group comprising 62 of the 164 WTO Members are negotiating as a block in the WTO.
The Secretary General of the OACPS Secretariat H.E George Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, and the WTO Director General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala addressed the Meeting and encouraged the OACPS to remain committed to concluding this agreement this year.
Pacific Ministers led by the lead spokesperson, Hon Jeremiah Manele presented the Pacific statement and outlined their interests in the negotiations many of which are shared with the ACP group. These include the preservation of small-scale artisanal fishing, meaningful special and differential treatment that provides policy space to develop their fishing capacity, the importance of access fees and the exclusion of differential licensing fees. Minister of Trade of Fiji Hon Faiyaz Koya, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Papua New Guinea Hon Soroi Eoe and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Samoa, Mrs Peseta Simi delivered national statements in support of the Pacific interests.
The OACPS Ministers considered and adopted an outcomes document outlining their positions for the WTO Ministerial Meeting on 15 July. Ministers also envisaged a further meeting later in the year to take stock and prepare for MC12.