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Alice Tipping, who leads the Global Subsidies Initiative’s work on fisheries subsidies, reports on the latest round of negotiations towards an agreement on fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.


  • The latest round of negotiations towards a WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies was held in Geneva, Switzerland, from December 4 to 6, 2019.
  • Members discussed reports from six facilitators that summarize progress made in key areas of the negotiation.
  • Members agreed to the Chair’s work programme for intensive negotiations in the lead-up to the next WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020.

The latest round of meetings of the WTO Rules Negotiating Group took place in Geneva on December 4–6, 2019, with a focus on negotiations on new rules governing fisheries subsidies.

WTO members also held bilateral and other informal meetings during the week to discuss positions on the main areas of the negotiation: 1) prohibiting subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, 2) prohibiting subsidies to stocks that are already in an overfished condition, 3) prohibiting subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing more generally and 4) legal and institutional issues involved in concluding the new agreement.

WTO members discussed the special and differential treatment that should be extended to developing country WTO members. According to a Geneva-based trade official: “South Africa on behalf of the ACP Group, Senegal on behalf of the LDC Group, and India were among the members that emphasized the need to exempt poorer countries from subsidy prohibitions, which should instead be focused on large-scale industrial fishers.” The United States, on the other hand, rejected the idea of blanket exemptions or carve-outs on the basis of self-designation as a “developing country” and underscored that “any special and differential treatment must be tailored to each subsidy prohibition and to the specific needs of members to help them meet the agreement.” 

Members also discussed a revised proposal from  Argentina, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and Uruguay that would prohibit subsidies to vessels that are not flagged to the subsidizing WTO member. A revised proposal from the European Union that would allow port states to make determinations of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that would trigger subsidy prohibitions met with opposition from several other members.

The negotiations will resume on  January 13, 2020, at which point there will be only 4.5 months to go until the Ministerial Conference at which a text is due to be adopted.

Concluding sentiments

“WTO members will need to work fast and flexibly to get a treaty text ready by June; they have just enough time to do so, but not a day to waste,” says Alice Tipping, Global Subsidies Initiative.