A deal on fish will break the WTO’s negotiating deadlock

November 30, 2021

The postponement of the World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference has resulted in one certainty: Negotiations on fisheries subsidies, launched two decades ago, will drag on a little longer. This is a small setback for an organization that has long since struggled to negotiate new trade rules.

But there is still reason for optimism. When the meeting gets back on the calendar, these may be the talks that break the deadlock. A successful conclusion to the fisheries negotiations is critical to both the credibility of the WTO’s consensus-based approach, and for the health of the world’s oceans, food security, and the livelihoods of fishers that make up 10 percent of the global population.

The state of global fisheries is concerning. From 1974 to 2017, the proportion of fish stocks that can be considered to be at biologically sustainable levels has decreased from 90 percent to 65.8 percent.[1] This means that 34 percent of existing stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels. Over 3 billion people depend on fish for 20 percent of their average per capita consumption of animal protein. In countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and some small island developing states, fish make up 50 percent of animal protein intake. For these countries, the stakes could not be higher.