WTO chief Okonjo-Iweala sees 'more momentum' on fisheries agreement

by Reuters
Thursday, 23 September 2021 14:28 GMT

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By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - The head of the World Trade Organization on Thursday said she sees "some potential" to reach an agreement on fisheries at a ministerial meeting in late November but added there were still significant differences to overcome among members.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters in Washington she saw more momentum on the issue than ever before after a positive meeting in July but said she also didn't want to be overly optimistic.

"We see some potential for us to conclude. Does that mean it's easy? The answer is no," she said. "There are still significant differences among members on different issues. So it will take quite a bit of work to overcome."

Negotiators at the WTO have been trying for 20 years to agree how to cap subsidies that contribute to the overfishing of the world's seas and oceans.

The portion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels has plunged from 90% in 1990 to less than 66% in 2017, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, with some regions such as the Mediterranean significantly lower.

The WTO chief said she had positive meetings on Wednesday with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO labor federation, and would meet on Thursday with U.S. lawmakers.

She also participated in U.S. President Joe Biden's Wednesday summit meeting on COVID-19, and said she used her remarks there to underscore the importance of addressing the "unacceptable inequity in access to vaccines."

"We made that statement that it's not acceptable that 1% of people in low-income countries and 58% in developed, in rich countries," she said. "It's morally, practically and economically not acceptable."

Okonjo-Iweala said the WTO was working with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Health Organization to advance a proposal that calls for spending $50 billion to end the pandemic by vaccinating 40% of the world's population this year and 60% in the first half of 2022.

Boosting vaccine production was critical to the effort, she said, adding that the WTO was working closely with manufacturers to boost production and clear supply chain logjams.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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