World Trade Organisation (WTO)

China suggests watered-down curbs on fishery subsidies at WTO, but nations don’t take bait

China suggested ban on subsidies to vessels engaged in illegal fishing, but WTO members objected to several of proposal’s get-out clauses

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 November, 2017, 3:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 4:07pm

China drew a blank among other major fishing nations with a WTO proposal to selectively ban subsidies for illegal fishing as it resists pressure to curb its vast fleet.

Better management of the world’s fish stocks has been a major focus of attention of World Trade Organisation talks this year and hopes of a deal at a ministerial conference in December is widely seen to ride on China’s willingness to accept such curbs.

China’s proposal to ban subsidies to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing – which the WTO published just as a Chinese delegate presented it at the fisheries negotiations – came with several caveats.

Developing countries and areas subject to territorial disputes would be exempted and national governments and regional fishing organisations, rather than experts, would determine what constituted illegal and unregulated activities.

China wants to restrict WTO rules on dumping, unfair subsidies

One official in the closed-door meeting told Reuters the text gave the impression of stalling on China’s part and that it was clear it was not acceptable to other key states.

China has the world’s largest distant water fishing fleet, with more than 2,000 vessels, the not-for-profit group Stop Illegal Fishing said in 2015.

It also lays claim to a large swathe of the South China Sea, overlapping rival maritime claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Another official at the talks said the US representative voiced significant concerns as the proposal effectively gave subsidising countries a veto, while the European Union was “extremely hesitant” to accept a plan that gave countries such leeway to subsidise.

Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Russia were among others with reservations.

The officials in the meeting said the Chinese diplomat had effectively apologised for tabling the idea at an inopportune time and said China understood others might have doubts.

Chinese fishing fleets threaten to inflame tensions in disputed seas

The United States had previously told the WTO that it was sceptical but committed to trying to reach a deal to impose meaningful disciplines on fishery subsidies.

The Chinese proposal follows at least seven earlier ones on fisheries – from the European Union, Indonesia, Norway and several groups of countries. They had tried to bring their texts into one to speed up the talks.