World Trade Organization Talks on Subsidies that Contribute to Overcapacity and Overfishing: What's on the table?

After the historic adoption of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies in 2022, Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are now negotiating new global disciplines to address more broadly the role of subsidies as a driver of overfishing. This update provides a clear overview of the draft additional rules that are currently on the table. It also highlights key considerations that WTO members should keep in mind from a sustainable development perspective.

By Tristan Irschlinger on May 14, 2024

In June 2022, world governments adopted the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies at the World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference. The treaty prohibits subsidies in the specific situations where they are the most unequivocally dangerous for the sustainability of fishing. Today, WTO members are looking to strengthen this historic agreement with new, broader rules on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity more generally.

These disciplines aim to ensure that the financial support provided by governments to their fishing sector does not lead to excessive fishing pressure. As such, they have the potential to make an essential contribution to the protection of marine resources, as well as the livelihoods, food security, and development prospects of populations who depend on healthy fish stocks. While these additional rules could not be agreed at the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference earlier in 2024, WTO members came closer than ever to reaching consensus and landing a deal on this crucial sustainable development priority.

As WTO members reflect on the way forward in these negotiations, this update provides an overview of the draft text that constitutes the basis of current talks, which was circulated to WTO members by the chair of the Rules Negotiating Group, Ambassador Gunnarsson of Iceland, on April 12, 2024. After providing some background on the recent history of negotiations and the current state of play, the update describes and explains succinctly the new rules that are envisaged, and it provides contextual information to help readers understand the dynamics that have led to particular provisions in the draft text. For each main component of the proposed new rules, a summary box is provided to outline the key elements of the disciplines. Finally, the update concludes by highlighting a few key considerations about the draft text from a sustainable development perspective.

Report details

Sustainable Development Goals
Fisheries Subsidies
Focus area
IISD, 2024