The 9th WTO Ministerial Conference was held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2013. A last minute deal was reached on several areas, including an agreement on trade facilitation, and some agriculture and development issues.
Efforts to create an instrument that would help to overcome administrative obstacles to trade by clarifying and improving General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) articles dealing with freedom of transit for goods, import–export fees and formalities, and the publication and administration of trade regulations were welcomed, although it is unclear how this will affect fish trade – fish being one of the most traded commodities in the world.
Agricultural issues were hotly debated, including export subsidies. The Bali package includes “a strong political statement” to ensure that export subsidies for agricultural goods remain low with continued efforts towards total elimination; however, fish and fisheries products are not subject to the rules in the Agreement on Agriculture.
Although fisheries was not a key topic of discussion, an initiative was taken by a dozen WTO members – the ‘Friends of Fish’ – and applauded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) regarding subsidies that encourage overfishing. In a joint Ministerial statement trade ministers from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines and the US committed not to introduce new subsidies, nor extend existing programmes that contribute to overfishing, create or maintain fishing fleets’ overcapacity. Indonesia, the host country for the WTO Ministerial, also committed to complete new national Fisheries Subsidies Guidelines aiming to ensure that government support programmes promote good fisheries management, responsible fishing practices and optimal use of fishery resources.
The success in reaching a minimal agreement in Bali may soon be followed by renewed negotiations for the rest of the Doha agenda, especially including fisheries topics such as subsidies agreement. In that context, the initiative taken by the Friends of Fish is very timely. But it is not clear how the Friends of Fish take into account how developing countries, such as ACP countries, elaborate subsidy programmes, which facilitate sustainable growth of their fishing sectors.