As the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) nears its conclusion, Pacific Island countries have been calling on the biggest subsidisers to halt subsidies to overcapacity and overfishing, and to pledge to lower bad subsidies in future, this week.

The world’s biggest subsidisers provide US$20 billion a year to their own fleets to empty the seas of fish.

As these countries deplete their own stocks, they need to expand ever further abroad – supported by massive handouts. It is only these toxic subsidies that allow the biggest subsidisers to fish far away.

“They should freeze and lower their subsidies, as mandated by the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6,” says Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Co-operatives, SMEs and Communications, Manoa Kamikamica.

UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 mandates members to prohibit certain forms of subsidies to OCOF, and to refrain from introducing new such subsidies.

Three-quarters of total harmful subsidies comes from the top seven subsidising WTO members alone.

A handful of distant water fishing companies shapes the positions of the world’s biggest members.

“This threatens biodiversity, and produces unfair outcomes for developing countries like ours which depend on fisheries for their economies, livelihood and culture,” said Kamikamica.

The fingerprints of a few companies’ narrow interests can be seen in the watered-down text. Taxpayers are paying for these distorted outcomes.

These narrow interests are scuppering the only chance of achieving a WTO agreement that might achieve meaningful change.

In light of this, the region is asking the large distant water fishing nations to keep their subsidies at current levels and to cut subsidies in the future.

For decades the big subsidisers have pumped money into their fleets to over-exploit their own waters. They shouldn’t now be coming to the Pacific to overfish its waters.

Amongst other demands the Pacific is also proposing a clause that asks the biggest subsidisers to stop the subsidies that are only there to allow them to fish in distant waters.

These are the only ways to meet the mandate that the world’s leaders laid out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Like many other developing nations, the Pacific Island countries also need the policy space and flexibility to develop their own fleets, increase downstream and onshore processing, and create jobs, food security and livelihoods for its people.

“What our Pacific Island nations want this week is fair. We urge the top subsidizing WTO members to freeze their subsidies at current levels and cut them in the future. We are concerned that over-exploiting one’s own waters should not, through subsidies, become a license to over-exploit Pacific waters,” added Kamikamica.

Joined at these talks by Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister Matai Seremaiah, and Trade Ministers from Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga, and senior officials from the Solomon Islands,Kamikamica noted the growing support from other like-minded countries to tackle the problem.

Deputy Prime Minister, Kamikamica iterated that “More and more countries are coming behind our proposal and we must take the time now to listen and do what is necessary for the health of our oceans, as too much is at stake”.

As custodians of the largest ocean and healthiest tuna stocks, nothing less than the economy, and livelihoods are at stake. Any agreement struck now will decide the future of the world’s fisheries.

The Pacific urges WTO members to reaffirm their commitment to safeguard our global fisheries for the collective benefit of present and future generations.