The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is more than just a deal about fish: it is a model for global change.
Just 109 signatures could unlock healthy oceans, guarantee food security, and change the course of history.
The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is exciting for a couple of reason:
Firstly, it's legally binding!
As part of the WTO's legal instruments, member states are expected to adhere to the provisions and can face dispute settlement processes if they don't. This is different from other global agreements you may have heard of - such as the Paris Climate Agreement - which are usually flexible, self-directed, or non-binding.
The agreement is a prime example of countries putting aside their individual interests to address a shared global challenge - overfishing. Remember, the WTO has 164 member countries, so getting all of them to agree on a common set of rules is a big achievement!
The phenomena of overfishing has been well established through multiple independent studies across more than 20 years. The effect of fishing subsidies has also been well documented. Over 250 of the world's top ocean scientists requested that the WTO ban fisheries subsidies in 2021.
In fact, ocean scientist Daniel Pauly and marine economist Rashid Sumaila were recognized in 2023 with the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement: considered the 'Nobel Prize for Environmental Science'.
This treaty only deals with the most harmful subsidies, and many countries feel it did not go far enough. They were willing to sign this initial agreement... with a catch. Unless additional negotiations take place and "comprehensive disciplines" on fisheries subsidies are adopted within four years after it enters into force, the agreement will be terminated. This clause aims to ensure countries take the future negotiations seriously!
Overfishing is a serious threat to ocean ecosystems around the world, and this agreement can help protect these vital habitats by ensuring sustainable fishing practices. This is a major move toward preserving our oceans, which are critical to life on Earth.
By setting limits on the subsidies that countries can provide to their fishing industries, the agreement can help level the playing field for smaller and developing countries, and artisanal fishermen and women. This can provide a fairer chance for small scale fishers -many of whom report that their fishing catches are so low, they can no longer support themselves.
- WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala