Fisheries Subsidy Negotiations at the WTO: An analysis from the perspective of environmental standards

Author Name YAGI Nobuyuki  (The University of Tokyo)
Creation Date/NO. September 2009 09-P-001
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In the Doha Development Agenda initiated in 2001, it was agreed to begin negotiations to clarify and improve the rules of the Word Trade Organization (WTO) on fisheries subsidies. Following the agreement, negotiations to prepare new rules for the subsidies are being conducted. This paper looks at the history and progress of the negotiations and considers the extent to which the WTO should take environmental concerns into account in preparing its rules.

One of the characteristics of the fisheries subsidy negotiations is that they are progressing with a greater focus on non-trade concerns, such as the environment and resource protection, rather than on trade concerns. However, issues such as an excess catch and an over-capacity of fishing vessels are not areas in which the WTO has special expertise. In these fields, there are international organizations responsible for marine resources management, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but even these institutions are not given the authority to impose legally binding regulations relating to over-harvest and over-capacity. Consequently, if the negotiations continue as they are in the WTO, the WTO may end up with a situation where its resource protection standards are tougher than those set by the forum which has more expertise in that area (i.e. fishing resource management organizations in this case).

As the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement) does not have a preamble, it is possible to add new targets of the subsidy regulations in later stages. If the rules on fisheries subsidies become a precedent, prohibition of subsidies with a focus on extreme environmental concerns, which are not addressed by the existing forum on the environment, could be more easily proposed at the WTO. Delegates of the Rules Negotiation need to recognize the risk that a new rule on fisheries subsidies, depending on its content, may set an extreme precedent for the future on the WTO and the environment.