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
Although internal Chinese politics are largely defined by meticulously concocted mysteries, it is an open secret that the battle for who will ascend to the highest echelons of Zhongnanhai is decided at the Beidaihe resort. It is where factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) engage in horse-trading over leadership selection and delegate appointments long before the party’s national congress. What unfolded at last month’s 20th National Congress was predetermined at the Beidaihe gathering in August. In this context, the CCP, and particularly Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平), used the event to project power and party unity.
The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and the New Taipei City Prosecutors’ Office recently uncovered misconduct by Kaohsiung news outlet China VTV Co (中華微視公司). The company is being investigated for allegedly having financial connections with China without the approval of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission. China VTV also allegedly conducted an information campaign by creating videos in line with Chinese propaganda and posting them on social media, aiming to foment social division and mistrust in the government, prosecutors said. This is nothing short of exhilarating, as it means that the government is finally using legal means to stop pro-China “accomplices”
Over the past few decades, only judges have been the triers of fact and law in Taiwan’s judiciary. Nevertheless, ordinary people are from next year to have the opportunity to be take on that role in criminal cases, a milestone in Taiwan’s history. The Citizen Judges Act (國民法官法) was passed by the Legislative Yuan on July 22, promulgated by the president on Aug. 12 and is to be implemented on Jan. 1 next year. Under the act, lay people are to be randomly selected as citizen judges who would participate in trial proceedings and adjudicate cases alongside professional judges in
The strategically vital city of Kherson is back in the hands of Ukrainians, albeit under threat of Russian shelling and attacks on its electricity supply. However, as combatants on both sides of an increasingly static firing line prepare for a winter war, there are effectively two separate conflicts emerging — one on the land, the other in the air. What can the West do to help Ukraine meet the immediate tactical challenges, and ultimately seize the longer-term advantage? On land, the arrival of a wet, rainy fall and a harsh winter should lead to a decrease in operations. Both Russia and