During its plenary today, the National Assembly (NA) of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa adopted the Portfolio Committee on Trade, Industry and Competition’s report on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, in terms of section 231(2) of the Constitution.

With the NA’s approval, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition can now ratify the first phase of the Agreement, which adds South Africa to the 51 WTO member countries that have formally accepted the Agreement to date.

Earlier this month, the committee considered the agreement, adopted the draft report on the agreement, and recommended that the National Assembly approve the agreement.

WTO member countries forged this historic agreement which sets new rules to curb harmful subsidies and protect global fish stocks. After more than two decades of negotiations towards banning harmful subsidies that encourage over-fishing and threaten the sustainability of the planet’s fish stocks, an agreement was finally made at the WTO Ministers Conference held in Geneva in 2022.

This development will benefit vulnerable groups, such as coastal communities and small-scale fishers, who rely heavily on fish as a protein source. The ratification of the first phase of the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Agreement provides a basis to contribute towards the livelihoods of such communities.

The agreement also marks a major step in ensuring ocean sustainability by prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies, which are a key factor in the widespread depletion of the world’s fish stocks. It represents a historic achievement towards the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to be fully met. It is also the first SDG target met through a multilateral agreement, and only the second agreement reached at the WTO since its inception.

The NA’s approval gives the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition, and South Africa as a member state, permission to accept (ratify) the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies.