GENEVA (Reuters) – World Trade Organization negotiators have failed to reach a deal by a year-end deadline to cut subsidies that lead to overfishing, the chairman of the talks told delegates at a closed-door meeting on Monday, citing delays linked to COVID-19.
Santiago Wills said it had been impossible to reach the U.N. target due to time lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that a deal had been closer than ever, two sources attending the meeting told Reuters.
World leaders committed in 2015 to a series of U.N. targets and one of them mandates the Geneva-based trade watchdog to strike a deal on ending government subsidies worth billions of dollars that contribute to over-fishing by 2020.
China, the European Union, the United States, South Korea and Japan are among the main subsidisers.
The failure is a significant blow to the world’s fish stocks, since environmentalists say an ambitious deal could reverse a steep decline, and to the WTO, which faces questions over its ability to strike multilateral agreements.
“It is disappointing,” said Remi Parmentier, strategic adviser for Friends of Ocean Action, who has been an environmental advocate at the WTO for two decades.
“They have had 20 years to fix it and on certain issues they are still almost at square one.”
The U.N. food agency has said that nearly 90% of marine fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Britain’s Prince Charles have both urged action at the WTO.
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