Norway welcomes agreement on fisheries subsidies at 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

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‘I am very pleased that an agreement has finally been reached to end harmful fisheries subsidies. This is good news for the sustainability of fisheries around the world and for international cooperation,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt.

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was concluded today in Geneva, a day and a half later than planned. In the closing hours of the conference, consensus was reached on a fisheries subsidies agreement.

Prior to the conference, only modest results were anticipated from the new round of negotiations, because progress in international negotiations has been impeded by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Nevertheless, intense negotiations led to an agreement to curb unsustainable fisheries subsidies, and progress was made on draft ministerial declarations on areas such as trade and health, and on how to chart a path forward for future agricultural negotiations in the WTO. 

‘Norway has an open, export-oriented economy. We therefore have a strong interest in international trade being conducted within a predictable, rules-based framework. The agreement on fisheries subsidies is an important breakthrough that shows that it is possible to reach agreement on issues where, for many years, the parties’ positions have been far apart,’ said Foreign Minister Huitfeldt.

Agreement was also reached on a temporary partial patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. WTO ministers also adopted a declaration on the response to the food crisis and a decision on World Food Programme food purchases.

The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. The last full meeting of the organisation’s members was in 2017 in Buenos Aires.

Why is the agreement on fisheries subsidies important?

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 33 % of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited. At the same time, many countries provide billions in subsidies to the fisheries sector. These subsidies are a contributing factor to overcapacity and overfishing.

In the negotiations, it has been important to strike a balance between resource, environmental and development considerations. Amending the legal framework and reducing fisheries subsidies will help to limit unsustainable fisheries. This will provide vital environmental benefits. In addition, it is essential to take into account the needs of developing countries, in particular the least developed countries. In many of these countries, the fisheries sector plays a pivotal role in providing food security and is also an important source of export revenue. This means, for example, that it should still be possible to provide support for small-scale coastal fishing activities and for the development of a country’s own fisheries sector, as long as the fisheries are sustainable.