The World Trade Organization kicked off a ministerial meeting Thursday aimed at breathing life into drawn-out negotiations towards banning subsidies that favour overfishing, but numerous sticking points remain.
Before the meeting, WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala voiced cautious optimism that trade ministers from the organisation’s 164 member states could finally move towards clinching a “historic” agreement after 20 years of negotiations.
“While no one expects a miracle, the meeting represents a golden opportunity to bring the negotiations within striking distance of a deal,” she said in an editorial published Wednesday in Project Syndicate.
“A failure to do so would jeopardise the ocean’s biodiversity and the sustainability of the fish stocks on which so many depend for food and income.”
The talks aim to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal and unregulated fishing, as well as to overfishing, threatening the sustainability of fish stocks and the industry.
While fishing should in theory be held in check by the environment, with low fish stocks pushing up costs, subsidies can keep unprofitable fleets at sea.
It is widely agreed that action is needed to protect a crucial resource that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods.
In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that one third of global fish stocks were overfished.
Global fisheries subsidies are meanwhile estimated at between $14 billion and $54 billion a year, according to the WTO.
But two decades of negotiations have stumbled over a range of issues, including a UN demand that developing countries and the poorest nations receive special treatment.
After missing the last UN deadline to reach an agreement by December 2020, talks have intensified in recent months.