The Philippines called on members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reconsider a provision in a draft agreement that would prevent the agency from addressing state aid going to illegal fishing in disputed waters.
WTO members are currently negotiating rules to ban subsidies that threaten the sustainability of fisheries, such as those that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to a fact sheet on the WTO website.
Last July 15, top officials from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture attended a virtual ministerial meeting to advance these negotiations.
“The current draft agreement contains a stipulation that if a prohibited subsidy arises in disputed waters, it will not be considered by a WTO panel. This will provide a loophole for countries involved in maritime disputes that are exempt from the disciplines. Secretary of Agriculture [William] Dar urged WTO members to reconsider the current language, ”according to a DTI statement.
“Issues of territorial claims or the delimitation of maritime borders or zones are the main concern of the Philippines, but nothing must prevent a duly composed panel from hearing a case,” Dar was quoted as saying.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines and other WTO members “are obliged to deliver a result in the fisheries aid negotiations” ahead of a December ministerial conference.
Jacqueline Espenilla, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law whose research focuses on conflicts in the South China Sea, said that the “carving” in the current text was actually problematic for the Philippines, as it would remove an opportunity “that we can control or restrict Chinese illegal fishing in our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). ”
But even if WTO members remove the “cut-out” text from the agreement, she said a WTO panel would probably still not take on a case involving China and the Philippines, as one could not resolve a trade issue without also deciding who who really owned the waters – a matter over which the WTO has no jurisdiction. “So our government officials basically want the cut-off to be removed, so when such scenarios arise, we can raise the matter for formal dispute resolution. The panel was then forced to decide whether there was an act of illegal fishing [and in whose waters they occurred], ”She said in an email to the questioner.
“The bigger question is whether there was IUU fishing or not. In undisputed waters, it is a fairly simple question to answer. In our case, responding – in whose waters the actions were committed – will require the WTO panel to apply laws that are not within its competence, ”she said. INQ
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