Protecting Our Oceans: A New World Trade Organization Initiative Seeks to Prohibit Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

Covering 70 percent of the Earth's surface, the oceans are one of the essential and defining features of our planet.
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Covering 70 percent of the Earth's surface, the oceans are one of the essential and defining features of our planet. For a long time, the ocean's bounty seemed almost boundless. Now, we understand that the world's fisheries resources--and the billions of people who rely on fish and seafood as their primary source of protein and millions more who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods--are in serious trouble.

Most fisheries are in decline and some are even at risk of collapse. Over 30 percent of the world's fisheries are being fished at biologically unsustainable levels, and even more--nearly 60 percent--are already fully fished. Despite this, governments continue to spend billions of dollars a year on subsidies that exacerbate this decline in fisheries resources.

It is broadly recognized that these harmful fisheries subsidies lead to overfishing and overcapacity in global fishing fleets. This artificially increases supply and reduces prices in global fish markets, resulting in unfair competition and economic losses for fishing industries that do not benefit from these subsidies. At the same time, these subsidies promote overfishing that undermines long-term food security. There is also growing recognition of our shared responsibility to take action to protect our oceans, as evidenced by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On the occasion of the third Our Ocean Conference, 13 like-minded countries, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Singapore, Switzerland, Uruguay, and the United States, have pledged to work together in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to negotiate a first of its kind, rules-based plurilateral agreement to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, including those that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity, and those linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which has increasingly been recognized not only as a conservation issue, but a national security issue as well. This group is just the vanguard, and will add new momentum on an issue that has been long-stalled in the WTO. We anticipate other conservation-minded WTO Members will join these negotiations and work towards an ambitious, high-standard agreement, while at the same time working to make progress toward a multilateral agreement on fisheries subsidies in the WTO.

These negotiations will build on--and extend to new trading partners--the type of commitments on harmful fisheries subsidies and obligations for enhanced transparency included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which the United States negotiated with 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, including eight of the top 20 fishing nations that together account for a quarter of global marine catch and seafood exports.

The Obama Administration has demonstrated a continued commitment to using our trade agreements and policies to help conserve the world's oceans and marine life for future generations. Launching negotiations for a fisheries subsidies plurilateral is an important step forward.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Secretary of State John Kerry's Our Oceanconference and Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with the Our Ocean Conference (September 15th, 16th) as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here. The State Department does not endorse the content of this blog. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #OurOcean #MakeASplash.

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