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WTO and fisheries: A small move toward property rights approaches

The World Trade Organization on November 30 published texts of proposed rules to prohibit some of the worst subsidies on fisheries, which provide incentives for fishing fleets to overfish the ocean commons. What's encouraging is that the proposals show some movement toward property rights approaches to fisheries.

The text was prepared by the chair of the WTO's Negotiating Group on Rules, Guillermo Valles Galmés of Uruguay and was distributed to all members. The rules text will be used as the basis of negotiations not just on fisheries subsidies, but on anti-dumping and subsidies and countervailing measures.

The proposals prohibit an array of fisheries subsidies, including subsidies for the construction and repair of fishing vessels used for wild marine capture, for operating costs of those vessels, for port infrastructure or other port facilities related to such fishing. In addition, price supports for products of marine wild capture fishing are prohibited, as are subsidies arising from the transfer of access rights from one government to another.

The provisions dealing with fisheries management, in particular, show a more market-based approach. In discussing fisheries management, the text states:

It is desirable that such fisheries management systems be based on limited access privileges.

In a footnote, “limited access privileges” are described:

Limited access privileges could include, as appropriate to a given fishery, community-based rights systems, spatial or territorial rights systems, or individual quota systems, including individual transferable quotas.

Negotiations around this text are scheduled to begin in mid-December in Geneva.