Nature-Positive Trade: Identifying Opportunities for the Sustainable Use of Marine Resources, Including Sustainable Fisheries

On October 10, the TRADE Hub co-organised the second webinar of its new “Nature-positive trade” series. This webinar focused on identifying opportunities for trade policy in supporting sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The event was a collaboration between the Trade, Development and Environment Hub (TRADE Hub), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) BioTrade Initiative and Oceans Programme, and the International Trade Centre (ITC), with continued support also from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Convention from Biological Diversity (CBD) as part of the partnerships on the webinar series. TRADE Hub Communications Officer, Aisha Niazi details ways the biodiversity community can support the trade community in promoting sustainable use of marine resources.

Sustainable fishers need more tools and less guidance…

Trade policy plays a major role in achieving Targets 10 and 18 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), relating to the sustainable management of “aquaculture, agriculture, fisheries and forestry” and the phasing out of subsidies harmful to biodiversity, respectively. Specific policies and measures can take many different forms depending on ecosystem particularities, social and environmental needs in the country.

Target 18 on phasing out harmful subsidies underpins the achievement of Target 10 on sustainable management. To address the former, biodiversity and trade communities must come together to establish what constitutes environmental harm, while protecting the livelihoods of fishers. Better data is needed to adequately answer these questions. To fill this gap, UNCTAD have developed a multi-species stock assessment for the fisheries sector. This framework collects data on risks such as climate change and overfishing with a view to support the sustainable management of fisheries and also the wider marine ecosystem. This data can be used in conservation projects on-the-ground.

Regarding Target 10, stakeholders working on blue economy sectors such as fishers call for tools, rather than guidance, so they can collect information themselves without a middleman. For example, UNCTAD has worked with the wives of fishers who successfully implemented plans with positive outcomes.

Combining top-down with bottom-up approaches can be a recipe for success. For instance, by developing a country-level macroeconomic approach to sustainability of blue economy sectors while also developing specific species-level and value chain specific approaches. Interventions must be tailored to different parts of value chains to be effective.

Sustainability standards and their uptake in global value chains continue to play an important role in improving the sustainability of marine ecosystem management – and a successful achievement of Target 10. These standards take on various forms, with new areas of focus including risk-based approaches and frameworks and incorporating the projected time taken to recover from the impacts of overfishing. Moving forwards, a more participatory approach is required. Partnerships between smallholder fishers and governments can be scaled up to better enforce social and sustainability measures. In return, governments and biodiversity communities can play a key role in empowering fishers with technical assistance and capacity building measures.

Progress from WTO “Fish Week”: a draft text ready to negotiate on the remaining important provisions

The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is a landmark agreement for the world’s seas and oceans. It prohibits harmful fisheries subsidies in situations where they are the most damaging. Though the agreement was adopted in June of 2022, many member states still need to formally accept the agreement for it to enter into force. WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hopes for its entry-into-force by the next Ministerial Conference in February of 2023.

However, the scope of the agreement is limited to prohibiting subsidies relating to (1) illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, (2) overfished stocks, (3) unregulated high seas fishing. The agreement does not tackle subsidies related to general overcapacity and overfishing. Members still need to negotiate these elements outside of the agreement at present.

The week of October 9 was one of the many “fish weeks” at the WTO focused on negotiating the remainders of the agreement. During this “fish week”, members have been discussing the draft disciplines table by the chair of negotiations in September 2023, and have proposed additions and changes. Developments from the week include:

  • 43 members so far have formally accepted the agreement. At least 66 other members will need to do so before the agreement can enter-into-force,
  • Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has convened a meeting with senior officials in the hopes of gaining several new formal acceptances to meet the halfway point of entering into force,
  • Director General Ngozi hopes the agreement will enter-into-force by the next Ministerial Conference in February 2024,
  • Beyond the subsidy prohibitions included in the existing agreement, negotiations are ongoing at the WTO to agree on broader rules to discipline subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity more generally
  • An initial list of subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing has been developed based on the best available academic and research knowledge. As anticipated, there have been diverging views among WTO members as to whether all subsidies on this list are harmful and under which circumstances,
  • There have been suggestions of special provisions, such as an exemption to removing harmful subsidies if member states can prove their fish stocks remain at sustainable levels. Some members have shared concerns this could become a loophole,
  • There have been discussions about special and differential treatment for developing countries and least developed countries, allowing these member states a transition period in which they are not subject to the main prohibition. Other ideas considered in that regard include permanent exemptions from the main prohibition for LDCs, for WTO members with a share of less than 0.8% of global catch, and for artisanal fishing
  • There have also been discussions as to whether member states should be obliged to report about the use of forced labour in their fishing sector.

Another key question is what will happen after the existing agreement enters into force. In the spirit of implementation, the WTO has a fisheries funding mechanism, or the “fish fund” for short. The fund’s main objective is to support developing and least developed countries with implementing the agreement, largely through:

  • Technical assistance and capacity building,
  • Support in data collection and recording,
  • Adopting fisheries management systems, such as surveillance.

For the focus to be on implementation, the biodiversity community can encourage states to ratify the agreement as swiftly as possible. The “fish fund” will then help the developing and least developed members of WTO with interventions tailored to the particularities of their ecosystems and needs. The biodiversity community can also play an integral role in both advising on and implementing such interventions, by providing tools to collect data and providing governments and fishers with technical assistance and capacity building.

As harmful subsidies are being phased out, fairness must be considered. This process needs to occur in a proportionate, fair and just manner, thinking about the social impacts on communities such as fishers.

Moving forward, WTO members must also conclude ongoing negotiations on more comprehensive subsidy rules, which will allow them to better tackle the root cause of overfishing. It will be important that they come to the negotiating table seeking compromise to produce fair and balanced outcomes. The biodiversity expert community can encourage governments to conclude these ongoing negotiations by reminding them of the importance of the issue from a biodiversity perspective. The biodiversity community will have a key role to play in creating tools to collect data and providing governments and fishers with technical assistance and capacity building.[TI1] 

The biodiversity community has a vital role to play in the future of sustainable fishing and use of marine resources.

Key takeaways from this webinar include:

  1. Sustainable fishers need less general guidance and more tools that enable them to collect data and implement sustainability initiatives themselves,
  2. The biodiversity community can support by providing fishers with technical assistance and capacity building,
  3. The WTO Fisheries Agreement will be pivotal in delivering Targets 10 and 18 [TI2] of the GBF, especially if negotiations expand the agreement’s scope to overcapacity and overfishing,
  4. The biodiversity community can support by encouraging governments to ratify the agreement as quickly as possible – so that the focus becomes implementation – and agree on more comprehensive subsidy rules,
  5. Implementation efforts must be participatory, involving knowledge from smallholder fishers,
  6. More exploration into funding opportunities to better implement the agreement is needed to complement existing opportunities such as the WTO fisheries fund.

For more information on upcoming webinars in our nature-positive trade series, please visit our dedicated webpage.

You can watch the webinar here.

The summary has been produced by TRADE Hub. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations co-operating under or participating in the webinar series. We regret any errors or omissions that may have been unwittingly made.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *