EU muscles in on global fishing rules to benefit bloc but throw poor nations under bus

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Brussels is calling for government subsidies for trawlermen to be curbed in order to crack down on harmful overfishing in talks at the World Trade Organisation. Eurocrats argue that handing out cash for fuel and gear is encouraging excessive catches and deploying the world’s sea life. But there is a huge row brewing over whether to grant exemption to allow certain countries to continue using subsidies to support their fishing industries.

Developing nations from the Caribbean, Pacific and Africa have accused the EU of double standards as the decades-long wrangle reaches its climax.

The latest EU proposal says wealthy countries should be allowed to continue subsiding their fleets because they can afford to develop programmes to replenish dwindling stocks.

And developing countries will be expected to make major changes, much to the disgust of their leaders.

Jamaica’s foreign minister Kamina Johnson-Smith said the EU’s “sustainability” condition is “weak”.

At a meeting last month, she added: “Major subsidisers will be able to satisfy the condition easily.

“We regard this provision as a loophole for major subsidisers and we would prefer its deletion.”

Marine conversation campaigners have also lashed out at Brussels’ plans, which they argue are petty given that the EU is the world’s second-largest provider of fisheries subsidies.

The bloc hands out around 11 percent of global funds, but remains dwarfed by China in frost place at 21 percent.

Isabel Jarrett, of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said “The EU is one of the top providers of harmful subsidies.

“They’ve got fleets in domestic waters, in other countries’ waters, out on the high seas: They’ve got a big fishing footprint.”

A 2020 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report found that the EU has some of the world’s worst cases of overfishing.

The dossier found that the Mediterranean and Black Seas had the highest percentage of fish caught at unsustainable levels.

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It has been said that government intervention is needed to reduce catches.

This would risk putting fishermen out of business, but fuel and other subsidies to reduce their operating costs have allowed them to continue.

Campaigners say this is unintentionally leading to overfishing in several regions across the world.

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that an ambitious deal at the WTO could boost the amount of fish in the world by 12.5 percent by 2050.

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Ms Jarrett added: “Because of the EU’s proposals, there’s a race to the bottom that’s started.

“Developing countries are asking why should they take on more than the big subsidisers are willing to take on.

“Everyone’s trying to get carve-outs.”

The EU maintains that its proposals are the best to tackle the huge subsidies given to the Chinese fishing industry.

At the WTO, China self-designates as a developing country, meaning it can benefit from the “special and differential treatment” afforded to poorer and low-income nations.

A 2019 study found that between 2009 and 2018, Beijing doled out huge sums and doubled its harmful “capacity-enhancing subsidies” to bolster its fishing fleets.

During the same period, it also reduced the “beneficial subsidies”, which are designed to conserve resources, by 73 percent.

EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Over time, the same rules should apply to all.”

He added: “We agree that vulnerable fishers in developing countries could benefit from some type of flexibility. But this cannot mean a blanket carve-out.”

A deal over the issue was meant to be reached in December 2020, with insiders now believing they are months away from an agreement.

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