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UNCTAD and other global influencers gather to discuss eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies at UN Ocean Conference


UNCTAD and other global influencers gather to discuss eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies at UN Ocean Conference

UNCTAD and other global influencers gather to discuss eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies at UN Ocean Conference
Photo credit: AU-UN IST | Stuart Price

UNCTAD at the Oceans Conference is working towards a call for action on a binding global agreement to end certain forms of fisheries subsidies

Why are fishery subsidies so harmful to our planet? Because they create a devastating domino effect that negatively impacts the environment and the world’s most vulnerable people.

Subsidies from wealthy governments encourage overfishing, overcapacity and may contribute to illegal and unregulated fishing. This creates food insecurity, unemployment and poverty for vulnerable people who rely on fish as their primary source of nourishment and livelihood.

UNCTAD will be highlighting this topic at the Oceans Conference in New York to be held from 5-7 June 2017.

“Developing countries can protect millions of jobs by ending harmful fish subsidies, it’s our job in the international community to help facilitate this much-needed change”, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

Fishing subsidies are estimated to be as high as $35 billion worldwide, of which about $20 billion can directly contribute to overfishing and overcapacity. The share of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels continues to decline, falling from 90 percent in 1974 to 69 percent in 2013.

“Of every $5 in fish products, about $1 is subsidised in different ways. The total export of fish and seafood products is $146 billion. This is not a small amount. People are paying an unnecessarily expensive amount for fish, and many people in the developing world are far too poor to afford this inflated cost,” said UNCTAD’s Expert, David Vivas-Eugui.

During the Ocean conference, Dr. Kituyi will meet with world leaders and key influencers, to apply further pressure to governments to end fisheries subsidies once and for all.

This is consistent with last year’s UNCTAD 14 pledge, in which 91 countries signed up to UN roadmap for the elimination of harmful fishing subsidies. In September 2016, global leaders agreed to a new sustainable development goal (SDG) on fisheries, Goal 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea, and marine resources. Target 14.6 addresses the harmful subsidies directly and has re-energised efforts to reduce and ultimately phase-out fish subsidies.

In an interactive dialogue to be held on day two of the conference, Dr. Kituyi will be joined by José Graziano da Silva (Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization), Erik Solheim (Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme) and Karl Braumer (Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization), for a joint debate on how to implement the road map for ending these subsidies.

“Getting 91 countries to sign up to a new initiative in such a short period of time shows both the need for this initiative and the power of UNCTAD in building consensus for meaningful change,” said Dr. Kituyi.

At the Oceans Conference, UNCTAD will follow-up with governments to support implementation strategies for ending these harmful subsidies.

The roadmap agreed upon at UNCTAD14 included a four-point plan:

  1. Require countries to provide information on what subsidies they are providing.

  2. Prohibit those subsidies which contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing.

  3. Introduce new policies tools to deter the introduction of new harmful subsidies.

  4. Provide special and differential treatment to developing countries.

“The demand for fish products remains quite strong, mainly from the Asian region and in developed country markets. The Ocean conference needs to be a game changer. Hence countries are not only going to New York just to consider issuing a political signal, but because they are very concerned about the future prospects of this considerable market,” said Lucas Assunção, Head of UNCTAD’s Trade, Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Branch.

A Call for Action for the Oceans Conference highlights the need for governments to act decisively to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.

UNCTAD is directly supporting the Ocean Conference on trade-related aspects of SDG 14 in a coalition jointly confirmed by FAO, UNEP, The Commonwealth, the ACP Group, and the International Oceans Institute. UNCTAD is organising a series of side events and launching several tailor-made publications at the conference, which can be found HERE.

Through UNCTAD’s participation in the conference, the organization aims to build on the momentum created by the UNCTAD 14 joint declaration and focus on scaling the delivery of the four-point action plan toward a call for a binding global agreement on fisheries subsidies at 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, later this year. UNCTAD will be gathering actors to discuss next steps for accelerating the removal of harmful fisheries subsidies and for converging on a global agreement. It will also seek to encourage the deposit of voluntary commitments by Member States to reform and ultimately phase-out harmful fishery subsidies.


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