New EU fishing subsidy scheme will have global repercussions

The EU has committed in the UN to end capacity-enhancing subsidies, yet MEPs are discussing vessel construction aid.

The EU fisheries policy is not isolated from the rest of the world. The 27-country bloc has international commitments to follow and the new fisheries subsidies policy will affect fleet subsidies in the rest of the world.

However, this has not yet been reflected in the current negotiations in the European Parliament and Council on the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, which will govern EU fisheries subsidies 2014–2020.

James Brown. Photo: Pew.

These concerns were raised by James Brown, first secretary to New Zealand’s mission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a leading negotiator on international fisheries subsidies, as he met a group of MEPs and representatives from member states and the Commission on Thursday 21 March.

At the United Nations Rio+20 conference on sustainable development 2012, the world including the EU agreed to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing, and to refrain from introducing new such subsidies or from extending or enhancing existing such subsidies. (Article 173 of the outcome document The Future We Want).

Subsidies for constructing new vessels or modernising vessel engines are the most obvious kinds of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity. The latter was proposed by the Council last year and both are currently being debated in the European Parliament.

James Brown pointed out that reintroducing vessel construction money, which was eliminated in the last reform, would violate the commitments made by the EU at UN level.

There are ongoing negotiations in the Word Trade Organisation (WTO) to strengthen the disciplines on fisheries subsidies.

The EU can essentially play a role as a swing state in these negotiations.

One group of countries wants to expand fisheries subsidies and another group of countries wants to further limit them. The subsidy-friendly countries include China, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Those that want to restrict subsidies include Argentina, Australia, Chile, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and the USA.

At the moment, the EU is maintaining a position in the WTO based upon current EU legislation. In 2006, the EU submitted a document to the WTO proposing an unconditional prohibition on subsidies for vessel construction, vessel modernisation and vessel transfer. But the EU currently does not support proposals within the WTO to prohibit subsidies for running costs or vessels fishing on overfished stocks.

The result of the current CFP reform will have major impacts on the future EU negotiation position in the WTO. Tipping the scale towards allowing more subsidies would open the gates for more fishing subsidies in Asia and other parts of the world too, James Brown told MEPs.

Current state of play in Council and Parliament
In their partial general approach on the EMFF, agreed in October 2012, the Council concluded they want to reintroduce controversial modernisation subsidies.

A group of MEPs – the rapporteur Alain Cadec (FR, EPP) and one ‘shadow rapporteur’ from each group – are now negotiating compromise amendments to the EMFF, after MEPs in January this year tabled more than 2000 amendments to Alain Cadec’s draft report.

Alain Cadec is currently seeking support in the S&D group for a compromise proposal (COMP 28) which says the EMFF “may support investments for the renewal of small-scale and coastal fishing vessels older than 35 years” with respect to a set of conditions including reduction of engine capacity and improved selectivity of the gear. Critics of this proposal point to the Commission’s assessment that the real power installed on board is almost impossible to control.

Even if a new engine is less powerful, it will not necessarily translate into a reduction of the vessel’s ability to catch fish. The European Court of Auditors recently stated that vessels with fuel efficient engines still have an incentive to increase their fishing effort, for instance by spending more hours at sea.

Under the current calendar, the aim is to have compromise amendments ready by 24 April before the Committee Vote 29 May. Find amendments and other documents on the European Parliament document gateway on the EMFF.

Further reading
“The role of subsidies in overfishing cannot be over-emphasized”
Removing subsidies makes fisheries more profitable

Axel Naver

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