By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) – China drew a blank among other major fishing nations on Wednesday with a WTO proposal to selectively ban subsidies for illegal fishing, as it resists pressure to curb its vast fleet.
Better management of the world’s fish stocks has been a major focus of attention of World Trade Organization talks this year, and hopes of a deal at a ministerial conference in December is widely seen to ride on China’s willingness to accept such curbs.
China’s proposal to ban subsidies to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — which the WTO published just as a Chinese delegate presented it at the fisheries negotiations — came with several caveats.
Developing countries and areas subject to territorial disputes would be exempted, and national governments and regional fishing organizations, rather than experts, would determine what constituted IUU activities.
One official in the closed-door meeting told Reuters the text gave the impression of stalling on China’s part, and that it was clear it was not acceptable to other key states.
China has the world’s largest distant water fishing fleet, with more than 2,000 vessels, the not-for-profit group Stop Illegal Fishing said in 2015.
It also lays claim to a large swathe of the South China Sea, overlapping rival maritime claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Another official at the talks said the U.S. representative voiced “significant concerns” as the proposal effectively gave subsidizing countries a veto, while the European Union was “extremely hesitant” to accept a plan that gave countries such leeway to subsidize.
Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Russia were among others with reservations.
The officials in the meeting told Reuters the Chinese diplomat had effectively apologized for tabling the idea at an inopportune time, and said China understood others might have doubts.
The United States had previously told the WTO that it was skeptical but committed to trying to reach a deal to impose “meaningful disciplines” on fishery subsidies.
The Chinese proposal follows least seven earlier ones on fisheries – from the European Union, Indonesia, Norway and several groups of countries. They had tried to bring their texts into one to speed up the talks.
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