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Committee Approves Ratification of WTO Fisheries Subsidies in South Africa

The Portfolio Committee on Trade, Industry and Competition yesterday approved the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agreement on the ratification of fisheries subsidies.

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition briefed the committee on the ratification of the agreement and sought the committee’s approval to ratify the completed first phase of the agreement, as recommended by Cabinet.

Committee Chairperson Ms Judy Hermans said that implementing the agreement will contribute to a better world by reducing pressure on global fish stocks. In addition, the ratification will allow South Africa to meet the United Nation’s sustainable development goal of prohibiting and eliminating certain forms of fisheries subsidies, including those that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Such fishing costs Africa over $2.3 billion in economic losses every year, according to estimates from the African Union Commission.

The meeting also heard that the agreement contributes to environmental sustainability provisions in the South African government’s National Development Plan, in particular, sustaining South Africa’s marine ecosystem. Furthermore, the sustainable management of global fisheries and fish stocks is in South Africa’s interests, in particular, the interests of communities dependent on this resource for their livelihood.

According to the presentation, the first phase of the agreement was adopted by consensus at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, which was held in Geneva in June 2022. It sets new binding, multilateral rules to curb harmful fishing subsidies, which are a key factor in the widespread depletion of the world’s fish stocks. The agreement recognises and provides for special and differential treatment to address the needs of developing and least-developed countries, albeit in the form of transitional periods.

The agreement also establishes a fund to provide technical assistance and capacity building to help signatory countries implement the obligations. It further prohibits support for IUU fishing and bans support for fishing overfished stocks, as well as subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas.

The committee heard that negotiations on the more contentious issues relating to overfishing and overcapacity will continue in the second phase. This phase of negotiations will focus on delivering a comprehensive agreement at the 13th Ministerial Conference, which will continue this month in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Such recommendations will cover additional provisions that will address overcapacity and overfishing and are necessary to comply with the mandate of the United Nations SDG 14.6.

The committee also heard that the completed first phase of the agreement is a tool for better fisheries management that will strengthen South African and global sustainable fisheries management systems through transparency requirements. It will also provide a way to improve data collection on the stock status of vulnerable fisheries and on related subsidies.

Vulnerable groups, such as coastal communities and small-scale fishers, who rely heavily on fish as a protein source, will also benefit, as the ratification of the first phase of the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement provides a basis to contribute towards the livelihoods of such communities.

The agreement also contains a dispute settlement provision that will apply generally to disputes under the agreement. As such and for the first time, the agreement brings fisheries management issues within the scope of the WTO’s dispute settlement process.

Ms Hermans said the committee considered the agreement, adopted the draft report on the agreement, and recommended that the National Assembly approves the agreement.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.


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