During a meeting with European Parliamentarians and EU member state representatives, James Brown, the first secretary to New Zealand’s mission to the WTO, who is also a leading negotiator on international fisheries subsidies, commented that: “The EU has committed in the UN to end capacity-enhancing subsidies, yet MEPs are discussing vessel construction aid.”
The first secretary also claimed that the future EU fisheries subsidies policy – the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which is currently being discussed in the European Parliament – will affect the approach on fleet subsidies in the rest of the world, particularly in the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, where the EU’s role can be critical in determining the outcome. “Tipping the scale towards allowing more subsidies would open the gates for more fishing subsidies in Asia and other parts of the world too.” He pointed out that “reintroducing vessel construction money, which was eliminated in the last reform, would violate the commitments made by the EU at UN level,” where the EU agreed at the Rio+20 Conference to phase out capacity-enhancing subsidies.
The Council of Fisheries Ministers concluded last October that they wanted to reintroduce modernisation subsidies. In the European Parliament, subsidies for vessel construction and for changing engines on board small-scale fishing vessels, under conditions including reduction of engine power and improved selectivity of the gear, are currently being proposed by the EU Parliament rapporteur on EMFF.
It will be important for ACP countries to monitor the internal EU debate about the future EU fisheries subsidies policy, as indeed, the results may affect the position taken by the EU in international forums like the UN or the WTO on the matter. Discussions in WTO showed that the kinds of subsidies currently discussed in the EU – vessel construction, replacing old engines with more fuel efficient ones – are capacity enhancing. The fact that they could be reserved for small-scale fishing may fit with what WTO discussed as special and differential treatment, provided the EU clarifies its definition of EU small-scale fishing. This is also a matter for discussion in the context of the fisheries policy reform.