ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sustaining the Blue Economy

Negotiating Disciplines on Fisheries Subsidies at the WTO

Subsidies provided for commercial fishing activities directly contribute to overfishing and decline in fish stocks, threatening to affect the food security and livelihood of millions in coastal areas. Hence, in an unprecedented move to conserve and sustain marine resources, the World Trade Organization membership is currently engaged in negotiating disciplines for fishing subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing, fishing of overfished stocks, and eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. This article analyses the most recent text tabled at the WTO on the disciplines related to fisheries subsidies and highlights certain outstanding issues where members are unable to reach an agreement.


The views are personal and do not reflect the views of the Centre for Trade and Investment Law or the Government of India.

Sustaining the marine resources remains at the heart of the blue economy. Fisheries form a key source of protein and livelihood for millions of people living in the coastal areas. However, aggressive commercial fis­hing and the use of heavy industrial fishing boats around the globe have led to over-exploitation or depletion of fish sto­cks. This issue has been further compounded by the growing amount of fishing sub­sidies, which has led to overfishing. It is estimated that as high as $35 billion are provided in the form of subsidies worldwide out of which $20 billion dire­ctly contributes to overfishing, annually (UNCTAD 2021).

Considering the rapid decline in the fish stocks, the United Nations agreed, in 2015, on a new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on fisheries or commonly known as Goal 14, aimed at conserving and making sustainable use of oceans, sea and marine resources (SDG 2015). Specifically, SDG 14.6 affirms the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in disciplining global fisheries subsidies, especially prohibiting harmful fishing subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by 2020. The disciplines on fisheries subsidies had been the subject of WTO’s Negotiating Group on Rules since the Doha Development Agenda (2001), but the adoption of Goal 14.6 provided the much-needed impetus to the once defunct negotiations at the WTO. The WTO rules on fishing subsidies seek not only to prevent the collapse of fishing stocks but also the need to work towards the improvement of ocean health and globally sustainable blue economy (Okonjo-Iweala 2021).

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Updated On : 14th Mar, 2022
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