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School of Business and Management

Dr Liam Campling addresses WTO diplomats on fisheries trade reform

Dr Liam Campling, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the School of Business and Management, was invited to speak to diplomats from over 50 member states at the WTO on Tuesday 4 October.


The meeting was hosted by the embassies of New Zealand and Senegal, and was designed to re-invigorate WTO discussion on the establishment of limitations to the amount of government subsidises received by the global fishing industry.

It is widely recognised that subsidies received by the fisheries sector are contributing to overfishing and overcapacity. Since 2001, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has hosted a number of discussions on proposed restrictions and amendments to the subsidies provided to fisheries. These debates form part of the Doha Round, the latest round of trade negotiations among WTO members.

A representative from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations opened the meeting with an account of the current status of global fisheries. The presentation was based on ‘The State of World's Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016’, a recent report published by the FAO.

In 2016, fish account for 17 per cent of the global population’s intake of animal protein, and it is estimated that the employment of one in ten people in the developing world is connected to the fish and agriculture industries. This makes the development of sustainable global fishing practices crucial, especially so when almost a third of all fish populations are overfished. She emphasised that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include the prohibition of certain forms of subsidies which are known contributors to overcapacity and overfishing. The SDGs will set targets which aim to reduce these subsidies by 2020.

The United Nations are not alone in recognising the impact of subsidies. In a report on the need for reform in the fisheries industry, the World Bank estimates that over US$ 50 billion in potential revenue is lost from the global fisheries industry every year as a direct result of fisheries subsidies, poor management and pirate fishing.

One of the challenges for organisations trying to estimate current levels of subsidies in the industry, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is serious data limitations due to governments refusing to report exact numbers.  

Dr Campling, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, started his presentation on ‘The Renewed – but Rolled-back – Fisheries Subsidies Debates’ by pointing out that while data quality is a problem, the principal reason for the failure to agree to disciplines on fisheries subsidies is political. Powerful developed and developing countries heavily subsidise their fishing fleets and use their position at the WTO to block proposed disciplines. This has caused governments to address the problem in other international fora such as the UN SDGs and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)*. The Pacific Islands depend on fisheries resources for their economic survival, and the form that the final regulations on subsidies takes will have an impact on these economies. Dr Campling elaborated on a point made by the Ambassador of Fiji: local Pacific Island firms struggling to compete with fishing fleets subsidised by China are being forced to tie-up their boats.

The presentation outlined several possible impacts that the proposed rules on subsidies could have on the Pacific Islands. Dr Campling showed that even the proposed rules to stop subsidies to fleets targeting overfished stocks, which are relatively un-ambitious, will still have complex implications. Assessing winners and losers from the proposed trade rules requires specific engagement with the features of these fisheries, and of the fleets exploiting them. Some big industrial fleets are likely to have serious economic problems without subsidies, which while benefitting local Pacific Island fishers, may reduce the amount of revenue available to Pacific Island governments from fishing licences.  

Those pushing for a specific deal on fisheries subsidies at the WTO are hoping for it to be considered at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in late 2017 in Argentina.

You can read Dr Campling’s analysis of the earlier incarnation of this WTO debate online: Mainstreaming Environment and Development at the World Trade Organization? Fisheries Subsidies, the Politics of Rule-Making, and the Elusive ‘Triple Win’


*The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a major macro-regional free trade agreement that encompasses 12 countries bordering the Pacific rim: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. The text was agreed on 5 October 2015 after 7 years of negotiations from 2008 (the US joined in 2009). However, ratification is still subject to Congressional approval in the US and elsewhere.

Photography by Dr Liam Campling. If you would like to reproduce any of the images in this article, please contact Dr Campling for permission.  



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