The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-third of global fish stocks are overfished and most of the rest is fully exploited. This is up from 10% in 1970 and 27% in 2000. Depleted stocks threaten the food security of low-income coastal communities, and the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable fishers who must go further and further from shore only to bring back smaller and smaller hauls.
Each year, governments hand out around $35 billion in fisheries subsidies, two-thirds of which go to commercial fishers. These subsidies keep at sea vessels which would otherwise be economically unviable. World leaders in 2015 made a fisheries subsidies agreement by 2020 part of the Sustainable Development Goals and trade ministers reaffirmed this pledge in 2017.
The negotiations on fisheries subsidies disciplines have been ongoing for nearly 20 years. Although there has been recent progress thanks to the intensive work that led to the development of the negotiating text on which members are working, the lack of political impetus in the talks to close the remaining gaps inspired Director-General Okonjo-Iweala to call this meeting of ministers.
Among the thorniest issues to resolve has been how to extend special and differential treatment to developing and least developed country WTO members while preserving the overall objective of enhanced sustainability of the oceans. Ministers said that the livelihoods and food security of poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers in developing and least developed countries were of great importance, as was preserving the sustainability objective of the negotiations.
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