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WTO members today (27 February) engaged in intense discussions to get closer to meaningful outcomes on fisheries subsidies and agriculture at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi. Ministers participated in dedicated meetings on both issues followed by convergence-building sessions to seek to bridge the remaining gaps. Members also endorsed the entry into force of new disciplines on services domestic regulation and advanced work on plastics pollution, fossil fuel subsidy reform, and environmental sustainability.



Today in Abu Dhabi at the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference (MC13) fisherfolk representatives have called on the global trading body to not trade away supports for small-scale fishers.

Ministers are negotiating for prohibitions on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity based on the Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 but they are being contested as not addressing the main culprits of overfishing.

Civil Society groups and fisherfolk representatives have traveled to Abu Dhabi to raise their concerns directly to Ministers.

Politico Pro

Here’s a roundup of the issues at stake at the upcoming ministerial:

Fishing subsidies: The WTO reached a partial agreement at its last ministerial conference in June 2022 to curb subsidies that threaten the future of ocean fish supplies.

This time they are trying for a more comprehensive agreement that would hopefully have a much bigger impact on maintaining one of the world’s most important food stocks.

Of all the issues at stake in Abu Dhabi, officials are most hopeful about getting this negotiation over the line. “If there’s no agreement on fish at MC13, that’d be a tragedy,” one Geneva-based diplomat said.

For Okonjo-Iweala, the negotiation is proof the WTO is still relevant. “260 million people depend on fisheries for their livelihood, and the oceans are being overfished. [The question for ministers in Abu Dhabi is] can we save the oceans, be part of the regenerative blue economy and save jobs?” she told POLITICO in an interview.

On February 23, 2024, small and traditional fisherfolk groups sent an open letter to the Indonesian Government regarding negotiations on a fisheries subsidy agreement at the WTO, which will prohibit subsidies for small fisherfolks in developing countries including Indonesia. In the draft WTO text currently being discussed, there are eight types of fisheries subsidies that will be prohibited because they contribute to IUU Fishing, Overcapacity and Overfishing.
Among the prohibited subsidies are fuel oil, insurance, employee costs, ship improvement subsidies, fishing technology, subsidies to support activities at sea and subsidies that cover fishing losses or fishing-related activities.

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rom February 26–29, 2024, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Governments from 164 countries will be joined by Timor-Leste and Comoros, the first two nations to join the group since 2017.

At stake is a fight between two visions of what role the WTO, as the world’s most powerful rule-making body in the global economy, should play.

Should the institution expand as an even more corporate-influenced body, with rich countries allowed to set agendas, impose negotiation mechanisms in their favor, and leave poorer countries — and multilateralism itself — in the dustbin of history?

Or should members of the institution recognize the constraints that the current rules place on developing economies, including the harm caused to workers, farmers, and the global environment, and increase flexibilities so that these countries can use trade for their development?

Ministerial Declaration

We, fisherfolks organizations and civil society groups in Indonesia are worried about the fisheries subsidy agreement at the WTO which will prohibit fisheries subsidies for small fisherfolks. In Indonesia, small fisherfolks are fishers who use fishing vessels under 10 GT and the number of small fisherfolks is 90% of the total number of fishers. It is recorded that 2.4 million fishers and 3.9 million fishers women in Indonesia will be affected by the elimination of fisheries subsidies by the WTO.
Small fishers are the most vulnerable group in the capture fisheries sector who also experience poverty and extreme poverty. So a different approach and treatment is needed for small fisherfolks in obtaining rights and protection from the state. We know that there are two pillars in this fisheries subsidy agreement that have reached conclusion, so we firmly ask the Indonesian government not to ratify the two pillars of the WTO fisheries subsidy agreement.

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Nearly two years’ worth of negotiating will conclude next week at the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where trade ministers could be leaning toward agreements on fisheries subsidies and a path forward on reform issues as the fate of a moratorium on e-commerce transmission duties hangs in the balance.

The ministerial kicks off on Monday and is scheduled to run through Thursday, though it is not uncommon for ministers to extend talks if they are making progress.

Most of the optimism about negotiations this time around centers on supplementing the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. That deal, reached at MC12 in June 2022, did not include provisions on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity. Addressing those types of subsidies has been a priority for members ever since.

TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb24/06)

The chair of the Doha fisheries subsidies negotiations on 5 February acknowledged that despite “constructive engagement” during the last several days, “some significant divergences in positions and overall approach still remain” on various issues concerning subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing (OCOF) ahead of the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13) beginning in Abu Dhabi on 26 February.


As previously reported in the SUNS, many developing countries seem to be sharply concerned over how the large subsidizers contributing to OCOF are going to be allowed to continue with their subsidies under seemingly weak two-stage sustainability criteria, as well as the alleged failure to include the issue of distant-water fishing in the list of prohibited subsidies.