UK statement on Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations

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Thank you, Chair.

I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to say a few words this morning, to convey my commitment to you, Ambassador Wills, and to the entire Membership, to work to make these negotiations a success.
A glance at a map will tell you why these negotiations matter to the United Kingdom. We have over 17,800 kilometres of coastline across the nations of the United Kingdom. Our seas and oceans are an integral part of our economy, our way of life and our heritage, and the foundation of our long and proud maritime history. Like many other countries in this room, our fishing industry is an important part of many of our coastal communities, particularly in Scotland.

We are not only representing ourselves in the WTO following our departure from the European Union, we will be acting as an independent coastal state for the first time in 40 years. Our policies on fisheries and on the marine environment are driven by sustainability. The UK government has presented a new piece of fisheries legislation to our Parliament which puts in place a legal requirement to fish at sustainable levels. Fisheries management decisions should made strategically for the benefit of the whole marine environment. We are committed to working with all our coastal neighbours including in the European Union and Norway to manage shared stocks in sustainable and scientifically sound manner, working as sovereign equals and in partnership with our fishing industries and our wider stakeholder community.

So there will be no surprise back in the UK that we decided to intervene in this negotiation in our first week after leaving the European Union. But apart from the significance of fishing to our own economy and society, our citizens also care increasingly passionately, and rightly so, about putting the global economy on a sustainable footing. And few things are more important than the sustainability of our fishing stocks. We were all inspired by Sir David Attenborough’s video shown at the last plenary meeting in January, which drove home the point that the future of our oceans will to a great extent determine the future of our planet.

Clearly, we can only tackle these issues together and through partnership. That is why the United Kingdom has helped lead initiatives to safeguard the world’s oceans, such as expanding Marine Protected Areas through the Global Ocean Alliance, and combatting marine plastic pollution as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter. But ultimately this is a global challenge that requires global solutions; multilateral solutions. And that is why the United Kingdom supported including a specific goal on the oceans in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and a specific target, Target 14.6, to prohibit certain subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

What we are seeking to do in this room is to harness the enormous power of a global trading system based on rules, to make that system more sustainable. To reach a multilateral agreement on subsidies, to end practices that are harmful to all the countries and communities that depend on our oceans, not just now but in the future.

The urgency and scale of the problem is difficult to exaggerate. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. estimates that 93 percent of marine fisheries worldwide are fished at or beyond sustainable catch levels. IUU fishing is estimated to affect one in every five fish caught, with an annual cost of up to $23 billion.

It is also no exaggeration to say that the credibility of the WTO also rests on the success of this negotiation. This is the only multilateral negotiation currently underway in the WTO. The successful conclusion of these negotiations will demonstrate that this institution can deliver a meaningful multilateral outcome, one that contributes to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals that our Heads of Government have tasked us to deliver. Success in these negotiations would be the best answer to those who question the WTO’s relevance and doubt that the multilateral gold standard that it has upheld for so long is still possible.

Only a few months remain for us to complete our work and fulfil our mandate by delivering an outcome at the Ministerial Conference. Now is the time for decisions, for encouraging ministers back home to agree the compromises that will be necessary. As part of the European Union, the United Kingdom put its weight behind these negotiations. Outside of the European Union, we remain equally committed to reaching a meaningful outcome worthy of the task our citizens expect of us.

Thank you, Chair.

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