The Philippine government asked fellow agriculture and trade ministers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to fast-track trade negotiations and come up with new disciplines to eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfished stocks, and overcapacity and overfishing.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez made the call during the virtual ministerial meeting of the WTO trade negotiations committee on fisheries subsidies.
“The Philippines stands together with other WTO member-countries who are committed to delivering an outcome in the fisheries subsidy negotiations ahead of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in December this year,” said Lopez.
“This will only be possible if there is solid political will and diplomatic flexibility in the negotiations,” he added.
For his part, Dar urged the WTO members to reconsider the current language of the current draft of the trade agreement on fisheries subsidies.
“The current draft text of the agreement contains a carve-out that if a prohibited subsidy occurs in disputed waters, it will not be addressed by a WTO panel, as this will provide a loophole for countries involved in maritime disputes to be exempted from the disciplines,” Dar said.
“Issues of territorial claims or delimitation of maritime boundaries or zones are of the highest concern for the Philippines, but nothing must prohibit a duly constituted panel from hearing a case,” he added.
He also emphasized that flexibility and exemptions for poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers in developing countries and least-developed countries should not create a permanent exception from effective disciplines to address overcapacity and overfishing.
Declining fish stocks threaten to worsen poverty and endanger coastal communities that rely on fishing, according to the WTO, based on the latest data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It added that fish stocks are at risk of collapsing in many parts of the world due to overexploitation, where an estimated 34 percent of global stocks are overfished compared to 10 percent in 1974, reflecting the pace of exploitation and indicating that the fish population could not replenish as fast as it should.
In the Philippines, illegal fishing amounted to 27 to 40 percent of fish caught in 2019, which translates to approximately P62 billion (US$1.3 billion) in value annually. Moreover, at least 30,000 or 30 percent of municipal vessels remain unregistered, and commercial fishers do not report up to 422,000 metric tons of fish each year.