The WTO suspends a ministerial summit on fishing subsidies after an outbreak of a particularly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus
The General Council of the World Trade Organisation agreed late on Friday, 26 November to postpone the imminent Ministerial Conference after an outbreak of a particularly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus led several governments to impose travel restrictions that would have prevented many ministers from reaching Geneva.
The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) was due to start on 30 November and run until 3 December, but the announcement of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland and many other European countries led General Council Chairperson, Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) to call an emergency meeting of all WTO members to inform them of the situation.
The suspension of the important meeting will see a delay the finalising a possible agreement to globally eliminate fisheries subsidies, and a possible suspension of patents to manufacture vaccines and other treatments against COVID-19.
Fuel aid or the tax exemption for fishing diesel are still a matter of controversy within the WTO, which wants to reach a consensus on the withdrawal of all kinds of subsidies that encourage fleet overcapacity, overfishing or illegal fishing. On Thursday, 25 November, the President of the negotiation, the Colombian Ambassador Santiago Wills, five days before the ministerial summit was due to begin, presented a draft agreement. Wills said the draft, “reflects an honest attempt to find a balance in the positions of the members (…) and to conclude successfully more than 20 years of negotiations.”
The draft document includes the agreements already reached and the issues on which discrepancies still persist. The draft agreement also contains new paragraphs in brackets that affect diesel. The positions on subsidies are deeply divided between those who defend the maintenance of fuel subsidies, those who subordinate them to having fisheries at sustainable levels, and those who argue that there no longer should be direct subsidies, and the bonuses themselves are detrimental to fishing.
Announcing the decision to postpone the meeting Ambassador Castillo told the General Council, “Given these unfortunate developments and the uncertainty that they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene it as soon as possible when conditions allow. I trust that you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.”
No date has been set for the rescheduling of the Ministerial Conference.
Source: Press Release