ABC Radio Australia, Pacific Beat

  • Transcript
Subjects: World Trade Organization Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies.

Host: Australia's Parliament yesterday tabled a report recommending ratification of the agreement on fishery subsidies, making it illegal for governments to give subsidies to fishing fleets engaging in illegal fishing.

Two‑thirds of the WTO's 164 members will need to ratify the treaty and Australia's hoping Pacific nations will come to the table. Australia's Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres spoke to reporter Mackenzie Smith.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister and Assistant Manufacturing Minister: What this agreement does, it's a world-first agreement, is make subsidies for illegal fishing unlawful. That means that WTO participant countries, 164 countries, will be required to cease making subsidies for illegal fishing and overfishing.

We know that there's about $35 billion worth of subsidies for fishing around the world and more than $20 billion of that is distortionary and harmful. This article, this instrument from the World Trade Organization, is a good first step towards eliminating illegal fishing and overfishing.

Mackenzie Smith, Reporter: How exactly do these subsidies end up going towards illegal fishing?

Assistant Minister: Fishing countries around the world, many of them engage in subsidies for their fishing fleets. Many of those fishing fleets are engaged in fishing activity in the Pacific. Much of that is legal. Much of that is agreed to by the participant countries in the Pacific. But some of it is not. Some of it is illegal overfishing that threatens the sustainability of fishing stocks that are a crucial asset, both in environmental terms and food security terms for Pacific states.

Now this treaty arrangement is an opportunity to eliminate harmful subsidies. It is a good first step. It has taken a long time to bring to life and I was really pleased to be part of the Australian delegation at the last World Trade Organization where we seized this opportunity. And the Pacific really stood up in a coordinated way and fought really hard for this set of changes.

It has been championed by the World Trade Organization Director‑General Ngozi Okonjo‑Iweala. She has been fighting hard, working with countries to make sure that we get the requisite number of ratifications that bring this treaty into force. It will make a real difference for fishing stocks in the Pacific.

It is not the only step of course that needs to be undertaken. There is much more work that we need to do together to protect Pacific fishing stocks, but it is a very good first step.

Mackenzie Smith: Are Pacific nations on board with this treaty?

Assistant Minister: There is strong agreement across the Pacific on delivering this as the first step for the World Trade Organization in eliminating illegal subsidies. Each country has its own ratification process. Some of them are more complex than others. It is a legal process.

Australia, the tabling of this treaty in the Australian Parliament, is the final step in our ratification process. Fiji is also very close to ratification as well. There are nearly 50 countries who have ratified this agreement already, and there is a very high expectation that at a senior level meeting in Geneva in a month or so that many more countries will arrive with their articles of ratification in their briefcases, and we will be much closer to achieving the number of ratifications that are required to bring the treaty into force.

We are determined to keep working with the countries in our region in collaboration to drive this treaty and its ratification, but also to engage in the next steps that are required to deliver better outcomes in terms of Pacific Island fishing stocks.

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