In a significant step towards sustainability, the Portfolio Committee on Trade, Industry and Competition in South Africa has given its approval to ratify the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement on fisheries subsidies. The agreement, adopted by consensus at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2022, is an effort to alleviate pressure on global fish stocks and aligns with the United Nations’ sustainable development goal to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies.

These subsidies contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice that results in substantial economic losses for Africa annually. Moreover, the detrimental impact on marine ecosystems necessitates immediate action. The agreement aligns with South Africa’s National Development Plan that emphasizes environmental sustainability and the sustenance of the marine ecosystem.

The first phase of the agreement includes rules to curb harmful fishing subsidies. It also provides for special treatment for developing and least-developed countries, establishing a fund for technical assistance. The agreement prohibits support for IUU fishing, fishing of overfished stocks, and subsidies on the unregulated high seas.

Further negotiations on overfishing and overcapacity issues are scheduled for the second phase, with the objective of delivering a comprehensive agreement at the upcoming 13th Ministerial Conference. The ratification of the agreement is expected to benefit the sustainable management of fisheries and vulnerable groups, such as coastal communities and small-scale fishers. It also introduces a dispute settlement process for fisheries management issues within the WTO framework. The committee has recommended that the National Assembly approve the agreement.