Call to Halt Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations in the Middle of the COVID 19 Crisis


Roberto Azevedo
World Trade Organization
Geneva, Switzerland


Call to Halt Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations in the Middle of the COVID 19 Crisis

In the context of the ongoing pandemic of COVID 19 that is ravaging the world at present, this call comes to you from fishers groups, supported by farmers, workers, and Civil Society Organisations around the world to immediately halt the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations at the WTO.

Countries are busy  attending to  the unprecedented health  calamity  posed by  COVID19,  which represents a phenomenal challenge not only to our health but to the current & future economic, social, and political stability across our countries. Most countries are busy deploying their financial and human resources to fighting this monumental battle.

In the middle of this, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is continuing to negotiate an outcome on fisheries subsidies in the most non-transparent, non-inclusive and ad-hoc manner. The aim to meet the SDG14.6 target this year is laudable; however these are exceptional times. Since Geneva is under a lock-down, face-to-face negotiations are on hold. Meanwhile, the Chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, is tabling texts at his own discretion, and the lack of adequate consultations is introducing undue bias in the text written by the Chair with the support of the WTO Secretariat, which remains under the heavy influence of some advanced countries.

The Chair has tabled a text on the 9th  of March on Overfishing and Overcapacity, while placing Special and Differential Treatment (SDT), a key demand from a number of developing countries and LDCs, under a placeholder. The Chair ignored important proposals by India, the Africa, Caribbean and  Pacific (ACP)  and  the  Least  Developed  Country  (LDC)  Group  on  special  and  differential treatment (SDT), in drafting this text. This is clearly in contravention of the full mandate of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.6, which includes SDT while asking for disciplines on fisheries subsidies for IUU fishing and to control Overfishing and Overcapacity.

Apparently, because of strenuous objections by several developing countries, the Chair organized a “virtual consultation” on the 20th of March to discuss proposals by India and LDC Group on SDT for both IUU and Overfishing & Overcapacity. But this had to be canceled as many developing countries simply do not have the infrastructure and option to effectively join, especially given the situation in their countries. The Chair then invited responses through email by the 26th  of March, which is also difficult for many Member States, especially from developing countries where human resources including in the trade ministry, are now redirected to fighting the pandemic. Delegates may also not be able to communicate well with their capitals and decision-makers under this situation, given the expansive lock-downs in most countries. Needless to say, after receiving responses from Member States and then from the proponents by the 3rd of April, the Chair (with the support of the secretariat) will come up with another personal text.

This process will presumably continue in this manner and may end in a General Council Meeting in June-July in Geneva to conclude the negotiations. This process, which is pushed by some developed countries, will put the whole outcome in jeopardy.

This rush to conclude the negotiations in spite of the inability to hold direct discussions, when the Nur-Sultan June Ministerial Conference has been indefinitely postponed and all our countries and their people are battling the immense challenge of COVID 19, is baffling. Moreover, since the next Ministerial is most likely to be postponed to the middle or end of 20211 there is simply no rationale for continuing with the negotiations in such a haphazard and hasty manner.

Negotiations of multilateral negotiations on an important issue such as fisheries subsidies, which is a critical livelihood issue for millions especially in developing countries, cannot be conducted in this manner. More so, when the development concerns of the majority of WTO’s developing and least developed country members are clearly  not being  taken on  board. A biased  and undemocratic process being conducted through emails with unwarranted haste will inevitably lead to a biased and unfair outcome and will further damage not only the development mandate of the WTO but its reputation as an institution for years to come.

We therefore call on the WTO and the Chair to immediately halt the fisheries negotiations and ask Member States to discontinue participating in this process until it can be pursued in a transparent, inclusive and rational manner, which is not possible unless normalcy is restored across the globe. Our countries would be much better served if delegates focused on domestic and global needs in fighting the COVID19 battle. In fact the WTO can actually help, for example, by easing intellectual property rules imposed through the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and easing access to treatment for COVID19 affected patients. And we can have at least a glimmer of hope left for a fair and rational outcome on fisheries subsidies that respects the full mandate of SDG 14.6, and in particular, Special & Differential Treatment, in the future.


Endorsed by:

Global and Regional Groups

  1. 350 Pacific
  2. African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network, Africa (AWFISHNET)
  3. Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
  4. Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
  5. Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and development (APMDD)
  6. Fahamu Africa
  7. FIAN International
  8. FishNet Alliance, Africa
  9. Focus on the Global South
  10. IBON International
  11. Melanesian Indigenous Land Defense Alliance (MILDA)
  12. Pacific Conference on Churches (PCC)
  13. Pacific Island Association of Non Governmental Organisations (PIANGO)
  14. Pacific Network on Globalisation
  15. Pan-African NGO Consortium on Agriculture (PANGOC)
  16. People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
  17. Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific
  18. REDSAN-CPLP (Civil society Network for Food Security and Nutrition in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries)
  19. Social Watch
  20. Society for International Development (SID)
  21. The Faith and Justice Network (FJN) of the Mano River Basin Countries
  22. The Gaia Foundation
  23. The Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), Uganda
  24. Third World Network
  25. Third World Network Africa
  26. West African Institute for Trade, agriculture and Development (WAITAD).
  27. World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF)
  28. World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP)
  29. Young Solwara, Pacific

National Groups

  1. 11.11.11, Belgium
  2. ACTUAR – Association for Cooperation and Development, Portugal
  3. AITEC, France
  4. Aliansi Nelayan Sulawesi Utara ( North Sulawesi Fishermen Alliance), Indonesia
  5. Aliansi Nelayan Tradisional Sulawesi Utara (Antra) — ( North Sulawesi Traditional Fishermen Alliance (Antra), Indonesia
  6. All Goa Responsible Fishers Association, India
  7. All Loktak Lake Fishermen Union of Manipur, India
  8. Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), India
  9. Amis de la Terre France (Friends of the Earth France)
  10. Anders Handeln Austria
  11. Anne’s Christian Community Health School and Nursing Services
  12. Anti FTA Committee, India
  13. Anti-Jindal & Anti-Posco Movement, India
  14. APVVU or National Agricultural Workers Forum (NAWF), India
  15. Attac, France
  16. Auckland Peace Action, New Zealand
  17. Bangladesh Fish Workers’ Alliance (BFWA)
  18. Bangladesh Krishok federation
  19. Bargi Bandh Visthapit Matsya Utpadan Evam Vipnan Sahakari Sangh, Madhya Pradesh, India
  20. Beyond Borders, Malaysia
  21. Bina Desa Sadajiwa, Indonesia
  22. Biowatch South Africa, South Africa
  23. Bismark Ramu Group (BRG), Papua New Guinea
  24. Both ENDS, Netherlands
  25. Centro Internazionale Crocevia, Italy
  26. COAST Trust, Bangladesh
  27. Collectif Pêche & Développement, France
  28. Congregational Christian Church Samoa (CCCS)
  29. Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia
  30. Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum, West Bengal, India
  31. Democratic Traditional Fishers and Workers Forum, Andhra Pradesh, India
  32. DISHA, India
  33. Environmental Management and Economic Development Organization, Tanzania
  34. Federasi Serikat Nelayan Nusantara (FSNN) – Archipelago Fishers Union Federation, Indonesia
  35. Femmes Environnement Nature Entrepreneuriat Vert (FENEV), Democratic Republic of Congo
  36. FIAN Indonesia, Indonesia
  37. Fian, Portugal
  38. FIELD Indonesia (Daun Bendera Nusantara), Indonesia
  39. Food Sovereignty Alliance, India
  40. Food Sovereignty Ghana
  41. Formasi Negara (fishermen’s forum in Galesong), Indonesia
  42. Forum Benih Lokal Berdaulat, Indonesia
  43. Forum for Trade Justice, India
  44. Forum Masyarakat Adat Pesisir (Coastal Indigenous Peoples Forum), Indonesia
  45. Forum Nelayan Jawa Tengah (Central Java Fishermen Forum), Indonesia
  46. Forum Nelayan Jepara (Jepara Fishermen Forum), Indonesia
  47. Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung (The German NGO Forum on Environment and Development)
  48. Fundación Étnica Integral (FEI), Dominican Republic
  49. Global Environment Centre (GEC), Malaysia
  50. Global Justice Now, UK
  51. Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria
  52. IDRIS Association, Malaysia
  53. Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ), Indonesia
  54. Indonesian Human Right Committee for Social Justice (IHCS) – Indonesia
  55. Indonesian Peasant Alliance – Aliansi Petani Indonesia, Indonesia
  56. Initiative for Health and Equity in Society, India
  57. Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Uruguay
  58. IT for Change, India
  59. Jal Shramik Sangha, Bihar, India
  60. Jharkhand Machuara Samuday Samity, India
  61. Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KSSFF)
  62. Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI), Indonesia
  63. Kesatuan Perjuangan Rakyat (KPR), Indonesia
  64. Kia Mau, New Zealand
  65. Koalisi Rakyat untuk Keadilan Perikanan (KIARA), Indonesia
  66. Koalisi Rakyat untuk Kedaulatan Pangan (KRKP), Indonesia
  67. Komunitas Nelayan Tradisional Muara Angke (Traditional Fishers Community of Muara Angke), Indonesia
  68. Kerala Swatantra Matsyathozhilali Federation, or the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation (KSMTF), India
  69. Lawyers Collective, India 
  70. Macchu Malla Samuday Samity, Uttar Pradesh, India
  71. Machimar Adhikar Union, Gujarat, India
  72. Masifundise (small-scale fisher organisation), South Africa
  73. Mouvement Ecologique, FoE Luxembourg
  74. National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS)
  75. National Campaign for Sustainable Development Nepal
  76. National fishworkers’ Forum, India
  77. National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (I), India
  78. Norwegian Trade Campaign, Norway
  79. Odisha Matsyajibi Forum, India
  80. Ole Siosiomaga Society, Samoa
  81. Pacific Asia Resource Centre (PARC), Japan
  82. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF)
  83. Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA),
  84. Pan-Africanist International, Belgium
  85. Perkumpulan Kediri Bersama Rakyat (KIBAR), Indonesia
  86. Persatuan Kebajikan Nelayan-Nelayan Pantai Pulau Pinang (Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association)
  87. Persatuan Pendidikan dan Kebajikan Jaringan Nelayan Pantai Malaysia (Malaysia Coastal Fishers Network Education and Welfare Association)
  88. Persaudaraan Perempuan Nelayan Indonesia (PPNI) – Fraternity of Indonesian Women Fishers, Indonesia
  89. Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group (MTAAG+), Malaysia
  90. Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, USA
  91. Platform Aarde Boer Consument (Platform Earth Farmer Consumer), Netherlands
  92. Pleine Mar, France
  93. Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho (PARIL)
  94. Red Mexicana de Acción frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC)
  95. Rescope Programme, Zambia
  96. Resource Institute of Social Education, Pondicherry, India.
  97. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia)
  98. Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organisations (SUNGO), Samoa
  99. Serikat Nelayan Indonesia (SNI), Indonesia
  100. Social Empowerment and Education Programme (SEEP), Fiji
  101. Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia
  102. South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, South Africa
  103. Sunray Harvesters, India
  104. Swathanthra Malsya Thozhilali Federation, Kerala, India
  105. Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO)
  106. Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), Cook Islands
  107. Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), New Delhi, India
  108. Transnational Institute (TNI), Netherlands
  109. Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd (TrEES)
  110. Tripura Matsyajibi Forum, India
  111. Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition
  112. Vanuatu Human Trafficking Watch Group
  113. Vanuatu Indigenous Land Defense Desk (VILDD)
  114. Vanuatu National Farmers Association
  115. Vanuatu Young Women For Change
  116. Vatu Mauri Consortium, Vanuatu
  117. Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) South Sulawesi , Indonesia
  118. War on Want, UK
  119. Washington Biotechnology Action Council, USA
  120. Wullar Fish Worker Forum, Kashmir, India
  121. Yayasan BITRA Indonesia, Indonesia
  122. Yayasan Tananua Flores, Indonesia


  1. Barry Gills, Professor, Editor in Chief, Globalizations
  2. Biswajit Dhar, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
  3. Fiu Elisara, Executive Director, Ole Siosiomaga, Samoa
  4. Sina Brown Davis (affiliated with the Māori women’s group Te Wharepora Hou), New Zealand
  5. Uma Shankari, Farmer, AP, India

Cc: Ambassador Santiago Wills, Mission of Colombia
Ambassadors, All WTO Missions, Geneva

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