July 08, 2011

Wyden and Portman Call for US Leadership on Fixing Fisheries Subsidies at WTO Negotiations

Letter Underscores Need for Proactive Action on Chinese and European Trade-Distorting Subsidies That Hurt US Economy and Environment

Washington, D.C. – In advance of the final World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rob Portman (R-OH) sounded an alarm over the exploitation of fisheries and the global economic impact of fisheries subsidies in a letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative.

Currently, more than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries face exploitation, a 10 percent increase in the last four years according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Despite that, many foreign countries such as China continue to support significant subsidies to fishing fleets that allow their fleets to fish longer, at greater distances and more intensively than is commercially or environmentally warranted.  These trade-distorting and environmentally damaging subsidies have the potential to create excess fishing capacity and harvest, wreaking havoc on the entire industry.

Citing the historical role that the U.S. has played in moving the WTO to create strong new rules for fisheries subsidies, the Senators urged Ambassador Kirk to send “clear signals that a genuine outcome on fisheries subsidies remains a core U.S. priority for the WTO.” Specifically, the Senators called for new rules to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overfishing in what would be a prominent and concrete environmental achievement in modern trade policy.

“We believe strong provisions to reduce and control global fisheries subsidies are a ‘must have’ for the United States at the WTO, and we ask that you ensure a timely and ambitious agreement on this issue is produced from the present negotiations,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Ambassador Kirk.

The letter states that the United States is the world’s largest importer of seafood and one of the top 5 exporters, with commercial and recreational fisheries contributing to more than 2 million American jobs. “Subsidies unfairly disadvantage American producers and workers, and they undermine coastal communities by reducing the costs of operations for foreign fishing fleets and increasing the number, size, and power of boats competing for fish. Subsidies also undermine U.S. trade opportunities in potential export markets,” the letter goes on to say.

With more than two billion people depending on fish as a key source of protein and hundreds of millions rely on fishing as a source of income, the trends would have significant implications for global food and security and economic growth. Furthermore, in developing countries, fisheries are a fundamental contributor to the social integration and advancement of women.

As chair of the Finance Committee’s subcommittee on Trade, Wyden held a hearing on this topic last year.

In 2001, the U.S. was one of the countries that insisted that fisheries subsidy negotiations be included in the launch of the Doha Round.

Click here to read the letter.