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WTO draft rule vs fishery subsidy worries PH

/ 04:08 AM July 19, 2021

The Philippines urged members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reconsider a provision in a draft agreement that would prevent the body from addressing state subsidies that go to illegal fishing in disputed waters.

WTO members are currently negotiating rules to prohibit subsidies that threaten the sustainability of fishing, such as those that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to a fact sheet on the WTO website.

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Last July 15, top officials of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture joined a virtual meeting of ministers to advance these negotiations.

“The current draft of the agreement contains a carve-out that if a prohibited subsidy occurs in disputed waters, it will not be addressed by a WTO panel. This will provide a loophole for countries involved in maritime disputes to be exempted from the disciplines. Agriculture Secretary [William] Dar urged WTO members to reconsider the current language,” according to a DTI statement.

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“Issues of territorial claims or delimitation of maritime boundaries or zones are of the highest concern for the Philippines but nothing must prohibit a duly constituted panel from hearing a case,” Dar was quoted as saying.

Problematic

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines and other WTO members “are committed to deliver an outcome in the fisheries subsidy negotiations” ahead of a ministerial conference in December.

Jacqueline Espenilla, a lecturer in the University of the Philippines College of Law whose research focuses on South China Sea disputes, said the “carve-out” in the current text was indeed problematic for the Philippines since it would remove an option “by which we can control or limit Chinese illegal fishing in our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).”

But even if WTO members remove the “carve-out” text from the agreement, she said a WTO panel would likely still not take on a case involving China and the Philippines since resolving any trade issue could not be done without also deciding who really owned the waters—an issue that WTO does not have jurisdiction over. “So our government officials basically want the ‘carve-out’ to be removed so when such scenarios occur, we can elevate the matter to formal dispute settlement. The panel would then be forced to decide whether there was an act of illegal fishing [and in whose waters they occurred],” she said in an e-mail to the Inquirer.

“The larger question is whether or not there was IUU fishing. In nondisputed waters, that’s a fairly simple question to answer. In our case, answering that—in whose waters the acts were committed—will require the WTO panel to apply laws that are not within its competence,” she said. INQ

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TAGS: Business, World Trade Organization (WTO)
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