Vol. 4 Num 327 Fri. April 30, 2004  

NZ urges ban on fishing subsidies at WTO talks

New Zealand called Wednesday for a complete ban on all state subsidies deemed to encourage over-fishing by the world's fleets, but major fishing nations such as Japan and South Korea firmly rejected the plan.

The proposal was put to negotiators at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is seeking accord on how to limit state aids to fishing, blamed by many experts for a worrying depletion of world fish stocks.

New Zealand, which was backed by a number of WTO members, including Chile, Peru, Norway and the United States, said that the simplest way to resolve the issue would be to begin with a ban and then negotiate any exemptions, trade officials said.

But the European Union, which favours new restrictions on subsidies, called the scheme "brutal" and said it would make it difficult for it to come to the aid of small fishing communities in some of its poorer members, such as Portugal.

Japan, along with its fishing allies South Korea and Taiwan said the plan went far beyond the goal of "disciplining" fishing subsidies, which WTO members had set themselves when launching the negotiations.

The talks are part of a wider round of free trade discussions, which were due to be concluded by the end of this year but which have fallen well behind schedule because of deep differences over how to reform world farm trade.

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 75 per cent of the world's commercially important fish stocks are either fully fished, overexploited, depleted or just slowly recovering.

Exports say that fishing subsidies, which run to some $20 billion a year worldwide, are a prime cause of overexploitation.

But despite the negative response to the New Zealand plan, officials attending a separate meeting of experts at the United Nations in Geneva said that there were clear signs that countries were at least agreed that something had to be done.