The ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface, produces half of the oxygen we breathe, feeds billions of people and provides hundreds of millions of jobs. It also plays a major role in mitigating climate change: More than 80 percent of the global carbon cycle passes through the ocean.
Yet this precious natural resource is not invincible. Despite all the benefits it affords us, the ocean today faces unprecedented human-made crises that threaten its health and its ability to sustain life on Earth.
The greatest threat to marine biodiversity is overfishing. More than one-third of global fish stocks are overfished and a further 60 percent are fully fished.
Each year, governments around the world encourage overfishing by providing US$22 billion in harmful fisheries subsidies. Although these subsidies are designed to help support coastal communities, they instead prop up unsustainable and unprofitable fishing activity, depleting the very resource on which local populations’ livelihoods depend.
This problem is not new. The WTO’s members have been trying to negotiate a deal to curb these damaging payments since 2001. World leaders reiterated their commitment to tackling the issue when they agreed in 2015 to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Under SDG 14, which aims to put a healthy ocean at the heart of the global sustainable-development agenda, leaders promised by last year to reach an agreement at the WTO that would reduce fisheries subsidies.
However, they missed the deadline, as negotiations slowed during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research shows that if WTO members were to eliminate all harmful fisheries subsidies — the most ambitious scenario — global fish biomass could increase by 12.5 percent by 2050.
That is an additional 35 million tonnes of fish, or more than four times North America’s annual fish consumption in 2017 — and that is a conservative estimate. Removing destructive subsidies really would mean more fish in the sea.
The aim is not to remove support from fishing communities, but rather to redirect it in a more meaningful and less damaging way. Even if a deal does not eliminate all harmful subsidies, it would create a global framework of accountability and transparency for subsidy programs.
That, in turn, would spur dialogue between governments, fishing communities and other stakeholders to spur the development of redesigned policies that better support fishers while protecting the global commons.
Moreover, an agreement is within reach — if the political will is there to deliver it. The most recent lapse of the negotiations resulted from differences over how to structure flexibility in subsidy regimes for developing countries, as well as how to define and enforce rules on illegal fishing and sustainable stocks.
However, after numerous proposals and discussions, the comprehensive draft now on the table combines measures to curb harmful subsidies with specific exceptions for developing countries.
The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, was due to start on Tuesday, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No new date has been set for the conference, but it would be the opportune moment for a deal.
Failure to conclude one would not only harm the ocean and the livelihoods of those who depend upon it, but would also diminish the global rules-based system and damage the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In contrast, ending harmful fisheries subsidies would reduce the cumulative pressures on the ocean and increase its resilience in the face of climate change.
In the wake of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, governments must demonstrate their willingness to use every tool at their disposal to tackle the climate crisis. The stakes at the next WTO Ministerial Conference have perhaps never been higher.
The future of multilateral trade cooperation is at risk; but, above all, jobs, food security and the health of our global commons are on the line.
That is why 33 former government leaders and ministers from around the world have joined forces with nearly 400 scientists in urging WTO members to “harness their political mandate to protect the health of the ocean and the well-being of society.”
Governments have given their word that they will curb destructive fisheries subsidies. The next meeting in Geneva would test the credibility of that pledge.
Helen Clark is a former New Zealand prime minister (1999-2008), Arancha Gonzalez is a former Spanish minister of foreign affairs (2020-21), Susana Malcorra is a former Argentine minister of foreign affairs (2015-17) and James Michel is a former president of the Seychelles (2004-2016).
This commentary is also signed by: Axel Addy, Liberian minister of commerce and industry (2013-2018); Mercedes Araoz, Peruvian prime minister (2017-2018) and vice president (2016-2020); Hakim Ben Hammouda, Tunisian minister of economy and finance (2014-2015); Herminio Blanco, Mexican minister for trade and industry (1994-2000); Maria Damanaki, European commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries (2010-2014); Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Chilean president (1994-2000); Michael Froman, US trade representative (2013-2017); Tim Groser, New Zealand minister of trade (2008-2015); Enrique V. Iglesias, Inter-American Development Bank president (1988-2005); Hilda Heine, Marshall Islands president (2016-2020); Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general (2007-2016); Ricardo Lagos, Chilean president (2000-2006); Pascal Lamy, WTO director-general (2005-2013); Roberto Lavagna, Argentine minister of economy (2002-2005); Cecilia Malmstrom, European commissioner for trade (2014-2019); Peter Mandelson, European commissioner for trade (2004-2008); Sergio Marchi, Canadian minister of international trade (1997); Heraldo Munoz, Chilean minister of foreign affairs (2014-2018); Pierre Pettigrew, Canadian minister for international trade (1999-2003) and minister of foreign affairs (2004-2006); Tommy Remengesau Jr, Palauan president (2001-2009, 2013-2021); Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spanish prime minister (2004-2011); Jose Manuel Salazar, Costa Rican minister of foreign trade (1997-1998); Susan Schwab, US trade representative (2006-2009); Juan Somavia, International Labour Organization director-general; Alberto Trejos, Costa Rican minister of foreign trade (2002-2004); Allan Wagner, Peruvian minister of foreign affairs (1985-1988, 2002-2003, 2021); Andres Velasco, Chilean minister of finance (2002-2006); Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, Mexican president (1994-2000); and Robert Zoellick, US trade representative (2001-2005).
Copyright: Project Syndicate
As Taiwan strives to attract more international students, yet another embarrassing incident of mistreatment came to light this week. The incident, involving students from Uganda, is yet another blemish on the nation’s human rights record, which is otherwise progressive. Online media firm The Reporter wrote in an investigative report that Ugandan students at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology in Changhua County’s Yuanlin City (員林) were denied promised scholarships and forced to work overnight factory shifts after they had been promised “paid internship opportunities.” There were also few classes in English compared with what was advertised, students said. Like many migrant workers
US-China relations are built on a series of fabrications about Taiwan. In fact, one of the major reasons the US-China relationship is so contentious right now is that Chinese belligerence is exposing these carefully constructed fictions to common sense. Readers know the story. In the 1970s and 1980s, American officials said what they needed to make common cause with Beijing vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Diplomats couldn’t talk about Taiwan as a “country” — let alone an independent one — which it so clearly is. They enshrined in US policy that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there
Once a month, a government vehicle pulls up outside Government House, the official residence of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), and an official from the Treasury Bureau alights to deliver a case laden with wads of Hong Kong dollar bank notes. Like the godfather of a mafia organization, Lam stockpiles her monthly salary in cash at her home. This is because Lam, who earns an annual salary of HK$5.2 million (US$667,517) and is one of the world’s highest-paid leaders, has no bank account. After Lam colluded with Beijing to impose a new National Security Law on the territory in
As we embark upon a new year, tensions across the Taiwan Strait continue to heighten by the day. While countries around the world are preoccupied with combating a fresh wave of COVID-19, China is using the opportunity to employ increasingly repressive measures in Hong Kong, Xinjiang — particularly to Turkic Uighurs — and Inner Mongolia. Meanwhile, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is using every method at its disposal to continue to harass Taiwan, elevating the Taiwan Strait on a par with Ukraine as an issue of primary concern for the international community. Paradoxically, Taiwan’s economic and trade dependence on China has not declined,