By the close of business on June 22, there will be more than 9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the rate of growth exploding more than six months after the first cases were reported in China, with deaths approaching a half million. For the two weeks ending June 21, the number of new cases approached 2 million (1,932,024), up 24.0% from the two weeks ending June 7 (1,557,983) which in turn were up 21.5% from the two weeks ending May 24 (1,281,916). Thus, the last six weeks have seen the rate of new cases grow by 50.7%. Indeed, the last six weeks account for 54.25% of total cases since the end of 2019 (roughly 25 weeks).
As the worst of the pandemic has passed (at least the first wave) for most of the developed world (other than the United States and countries in the Middle East), the sharp growth in cases is mostly due to the spread of the virus in the developing world where healthcare infrastructure and ability to handle the challenges of the pandemic are likely less than for the developed world.
Central and South America, parts of Asia and the Middle East are the current hot spots of infections with growth in a number of African countries as well. The United States which peaked during the two week period ending April 26, has by the far the largest number of total cases (more than 2.2 million) and is seeing the number of cases rise again in the most recent two weeks.
Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Republic all have significant numbers of cases and all but Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE are still growing rapidly in terms of new cases where peaks have not been reached. Thus, the likelihood of even greater number of new cases is a near certainty for the coming weeks.
Some recent developments
Most of western Europe has been engaged in reopening in recent weeks as the rates of infection are dramatically lower than in the March-April period. Indeed, travel within the EU and some neighboring countries is opening up in time for the July-August vacation season. Time will tell if the steps being taken to test, trace and quarantine any cases found going forward will minimize any upward movement in cases.
China and parts of Asia with low rates of infections where economic interruption has been less (e.g., Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Japan), are seeing low numbers of new cases. China has taken strong measures to address a new outbreak in Beijing (numbers are a few hundred cases).
Australia and New Zealand have few if any new cases and the numbers for Canada are also way down with reopening occurring as would be expected.
The U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico are maintaining travel restrictions between themselves (though excluding movement of goods and services).
In the United States, the story on the control of the pandemic is very mixed as individual states have been engaged in reopening at different rates in part reflecting different infection rates and growth rates. However, reopening in some states is occurring despite conditions in the state not being consistent with the Administration’s guidelines from the Center for Disease Control ad Prevention (“CDC”) on when reopening should occur. Thus, there are states seeing large increases in recent days and weeks while many other states are seeing significant declines or at least stable rates of infection. It is unclear how the infection rate in the U.S. will progress in the coming weeks and months.
As my post from last week on the Ottawa Group communication reviewed, there are lots of proposals that have been teed up by WTO Members to keep trade flowing during the pandemic and to potentially reduce the likelihood of such trade disruptions as are being experienced at present in future pandemics.
But large numbers of export restraints remain in place, transparency is better than it was in the first quarter but still not what is needed. However, import liberalization/expedition is occurring in many countries to facilitate obtaining medical goods needed at the lowest price.
The toll flowing from the pandemic and the closing of economies to control the pandemic is enormous despite efforts of governments to provide funding to reduce the damage. This has led the WTO to project 2020 trade flows to decline between 13 and 32% from 2019 levels. As data are available for the March-June period, the severity of the decline for various markets is being fleshed out and resulting in lower global GDP growth projections.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic hit many developed countries hard before spreading to most of the developing world, developing countries have seen economic effects from the pandemic preceding the health effects in their countries. Reduced export opportunities, declining commodity prices (many developing countries are dependent on one or a few commodities for foreign exchange), reduced foreign investment (and some capital flight), higher import prices for critical goods due to scarcity (medical goods) and logistics complications flowing from countries efforts to address the spread of the pandemic are a few examples of the economic harm occurring to many developing countries.
The needs of developing countries for debt forgiveness/postponement appears much larger than projected although multilateral organizations, regional development banks and the G20 have all been working to provide at least some significant assistance to many individual countries. Trade financing will continue to be a major challenge for many developing countries during the pandemic. Harm to small businesses is staggering and will set many countries back years if not decades in their development efforts when the pandemic is past.
As can be seen in developed countries, sectors like travel and tourism (including airlines, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues) are extraordinarily hard hit and may not recover for the foreseeable future. The need for social distancing makes many business models (e.g., most restaurants, movie theaters, bars, etc.) unworkable and will result in the loss of large portions of small businesses in those sectors in the coming months. For many developing countries, travel and tourism are a major source of employment and income. Losses in employment will likely be in the tens of millions of jobs, many of which may not return for years if at all.
Role of WTO during Pandemic
The WTO views itself as performing the useful functions of (1) gathering through notifications information from Members on their actions responding to the pandemic and getting that information out to Members and the public, (2) providing forecasts of the trade flows during the pandemic, and (3) providing a forum for Members to bring forward proposals on what action the WTO as a whole should consider. Obviously the success of all three functions depends on the openness and engagement of the Members.
WTO agreements don’t really have comprehensive rules for addressing pandemics or for the policy space governments are likely to need to respond to the economic tsunami that may unfold (and will unfold with different intensities for different Members). Some recent proposals would try to address some of the potential needs for the trading system to better respond to pandemics. However, most proposals seem to suggest narrowing the policy space. Last week’s Committee on Agriculture was reported to have had many Members challenging other Members actions in the agriculture space responding to the extraordinary challenges flowing from the pandemic. While Committee activity is designed to permit Members the opportunity to better understand the policies of trading partners, a process in Committee which focuses simply on conformance to existing rules without consideration of what, if any, flexibilities are needed in extraordinary circumstances seems certain to result in less relevance of the WTO going forward.
Most countries have recognized that the depth of the economic collapse being cased by the global efforts to respond to COVID-19 will require Members to take extraordinary steps to keep economies from collapsing. Looking at the huge stimulus programs put in place and efforts to prevent entire sectors of economies from collapsing, efforts to date by major developed countries are some $10 trillion. Concerns expressed by the EU and others have generally not been the need for such programs, but rather have been on ensuring any departures from WTO norms are minimized in time and permit a return to the functioning of market economies as quickly as possible.
Members have not to date proposed, but should agree, that the WTO undertake an evaluation of programs pursued by Members and how existing rules do or do not address the needs of Members in these extraordinary times.
When WTO Members launched the Doha Development Agenda in November 2001, one of the topics to be explored was fisheries subsidies as outlined as part of the Rules paragraph 28:
“In the context of these negotiations, participants shall also aim to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries.” Ministerial Declaration, para. 28, WT/MIN(01)/Dec/1.
Fisheries subsidies were also mentioned in paragraph 31 of the Declaration dealing with topics within trade and environment that would be explored.
More than 18 years later, WTO members are pushing to reach agreement on new disciplines on fisheries subsidies by the time of the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in early June 2020.
The push is related to the 2020 deadline included in the September 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDG”) 14.6: “by 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.” The term “IUU” refers to “illegal, unreported, and unregulated” fishing.
At the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, WTO members adopted a decision to complete fisheries subsidies negotiations by the next Ministerial Conference. See WT/MIN(17)/64; WT/L/1031:
“MINISTERIAL DECISION OF 13 DECEMBER 2017
“The Ministerial Conference
“Decides as follows:
“1. Building on the progress made since the 10th Ministerial Conference as reflected in documents TN/RL/W/274/Rev.2, RD/TN/RL/29/Rev.3, Members agree to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, with a view to adopting, by the Ministerial Conference in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU-fishing recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing country Members and least developed country Members should be an integral part of these negotiations.
“2. Members re-commit to implementation of existing notification obligations under Article 25.3 of the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures thus strengthening transparency with respect to fisheries subsidies.”
Why the interest in fisheries subsidies?
For decades, the world has been experiencing overfishing of various species of fish in different parts of the world. The U.N.Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that between 1974 and 2015 fish stocks that are not within biologically sustainable levels increased from 10% in 1974 to 33.1% in 2015. FAO, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 (“2018 Report) at 6. This decline has occurred despite efforts made by various countries to regulate capture/production.
“Despite the continuous increase in the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels, progress has been made in some regions. For example, the proportion of stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels increased from 53 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2016 in the United States of America, and from 27 percent in 2004 to 69 percent in 2015 in Australia.” 2018 Report at 6.
Because of, inter alia, the importance of the fishing industry to many countries and fish to the diets of many peoples, there has been concern for many years with actions needed by nations to ensure the sustainability of fish captures.
The FAO’s 2018 Report provides a great deal of information on the importance of fish to developing and least developed countries and the various actions being taken to address meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) pertaining to fish and the oceans.
The WTO’s negotiations on fisheries subsidies are just one part of the much larger group of SDGs being pursued by countries as part of the UN targets and only deals with ocean/sea wild caught fish, not with aquaculture and not with inland caught fish. The FAO’s 2018 Report is attached below.
As Table 1 in the 2018 Report shows, there has been a rapid growth in aquaculture so that by 2016, there was greater volume from aquaculture than there was from “marine caught”. Specifically, in 2016 aquaculture accounted fro 80.0 million metric tons (46.8%) of the total production/ capture, marine capture was 79.3 million metric tons (46.4%) and inland capture was 11.6 million metric tons (6.8%) – for a total of 170.9 million metric tons. Data do not include information on aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators, caimans, seaweeds and other aquatic plants. 2018 Report, Table 1, page 4.
While aquaculture has grown, marine capture has declined or stagnated over time and with growing levels of overfishing, longer term decline will occur in this sector absent concerted steps to manage the volume pursued at sea. Overfishing is believed due to overbuilding of fishing fleets and the level of fishing that contravenes national laws, is unrecorded and/or unregulated. Thus, the efforts within the WTO to impose disciplines on subsidies benefiting IUU fishing and/or contributing to overfishing are an important element in achieving catch rates that are sustainable versus unsustainable and declining.
Importance of marine fishing to developed, developing and least developed countries
The FAO gathers information on the amount of marine capture (as well as inland capture and aquaculture) annually. The latest data available from FAO are for 2017. FAO, Fishery and Aquaculture Statistical Yearbook 2017, http://www.fao.org/fishery/static/Yearbook/YB2017_USBcard/index.htm. The average marine caught volumes for the years 2015-2017 from the FAO data base were summarized for WTO Members in a July 11, 2019 submission to the WTO rules negotiations addressing fisheries subsidies. The submission was made by Argentina, Australia, the United States and Uruguay. Top marine caught Members are presented below in millions of metric tons and percent of world production:
Production (mm tonnes)
% of World Production
Republic of Korea
TN/RL/GEN/197/Rev.2, pages 4-7, Annex I (11 July 2019). Data for the EU and the US contain data from various islands referenced on page 4 in fotnotes a and b. The Annex lists 136 of the 164 WTO members and their production/volumes although no data are available for 28 WTO members (some of which are landlocked and hence may have no marine caught fish). The full listing is attached below.
As reviewed in the 2018 Report (page 2), fish make up an increasing share of animal protein for humans, with 100% of the increase being accounted for by expanding aquaculture:
“The expansion in consumption has been driven not only by increased production, but also by other factors, including reduced wastage. In 2015, fish accounted for about 17 percent of animal protein consumed by the global population. Moreover, fish provided about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein. Despite their relatively low levels of fish consumption, people in developing countries have a higher share of fish protein in their diets than those in developed countries. The highest per capita fish consumption, over 50 kg, is found in several small island developing States (SIDS), particularly in Oceania, while the lowest levels, just above 2 kg, are in Central Asia and some landlocked countries.”
Fishing/fisheries are an important source of employment for many countries, with the vast majority of such employment being in countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Specifically in 2016 worldwide fisheries employment was estimated at 40.338 million people (no breakout between marine and inland caught). Of this number, 31.990 million were in Asia ((79.3%), 5.367 million were in Africa (13.3%) and 2.085 million were in Latin America and the Caribbean (5.2%) , with just 896,000 jobs in North America, Europe and Oceania. Several important individual countries are shown in the 2018 Report — China with 14.5 million jobs in fisheries in 2016 (36% of global) and Indonesia with 2.7 million folks employed in fisheries (6.7% of global employment in the sector). 2018 Report at 32-33. Much of the employment in fisheries around the world is from family run operations, often subsistence in nature, and mainly using small boats (less than 12 meters in length and a large portion of which are not motorized).
The 2018 Report indicates that in 2016 the number of fishing vessels in the world were 4.6 million, 2.8 million of which were motorized. Of the 4.6 million vessels, 75.4% were in Asia, 14.0% in Africa, 6.4% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2.1% in Europe, 1.8% in North America and 0.3% in Oceania. 100% of Europe’s vessels were motorized, more than 90% of those in North America, but only some 25% in Africa. See pages 36-38 of the 2018 Report.
WTO Efforts at Increasing Disciplineson Marine Fisheries Subsidies
The negotiations have been complicated by many issues that are not typical for trade negotiations. Here are a few of the perceived problem issues:
(a) problem being addressed relates to depletion of scarce global resources through overfishing flowing from subsidies that create excess capacity;
(b) production occurs not only in national waters but in the open seas and through contracts to capture fish in third countries’ waters;
(c) concerns about effect of negotiations on outstanding territorial disputes/claims;
(d) the challenge of disciplining subsidies provided by one country on fishing vessels which are flagged in a different country;
(e) the lack of meaningful data from many developing and least developed countries which complicates understanding the level of marine capture;
(f) for many developing and least developed countries, the large part of fishing fleets which are subsistence or artisanal in nature;
(g) the large portion of global capture which is developing and least developed country in origin vs. desire for special and differential treatment for such countries;
(h) challenge of whether traditional S&D provisions (exclusion from disciplines, lesser reductions, longer implementation periods) are actually harmful to developing and least developed countries where continued erosion of marine catch from overfishing will actually hurt the fishermen and fisherwomen of the countries receiving S&D consideration;
(i) whether dispute settlement as applicable to other WTO agreements (whether SCMA or other) will serve the underlying objectives of any negotiated agreement or needs to be modified to reflect the unique objectives of the agreement.
On the question of level of subsidization, there are the usual questions of what, if any, subsidies will be allowed as not causing concerns re growing capacity or overfishing and whether there is some level of acceptable subsidies even if adding to capacity.
While the set of public documents from the negotiations are reasonable through much of 2018, the resort to Room Documents (which are not made public) and other classification of documents, means that much of the current drafts of sections of a possible agreement are not publicly available. For example, there were ten documents identified as made available to WTO Members for the May 8, 2019 Informal Open-ended Negotiating Group on Rules (Fisheries Subsidies). Seven of the ten documents are not available to the public as “Room Documents” even if the documents were generated weeks or months before the meeting. See, e.g., RD/TN/RL/72 (17/12/2018); RD/TN/RL/81 (21/03/2019); RD/TN/RL/77/Rev.1 (21/03/2019); RD/TN/RL/82 (08/04/2019); RD/TN/RL/79/Rev.1 (18/04/2019); RD/TN/RL/83 (02/05/2019); RD/TN/RL/84 (06/05/2019).
Similarly, WTO Members have done a relatively poor job of notifying the subsidies provided to marine fisheries. Even with improvements in notifications in 2019, as late as November 2019, nine of the 26 largest providers of fisheries subsidies had not provided notifications and some who had done so in 2019 submitted the first notifications of such programs in 20 years. Members welcome progress in notification of fisheries subsidies, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news19_e/scm_19nov19_e.htm.
There is a draft document from the Chair of the negotiations from 14 November 2018, TN/RL/W/274/Rev.6 which lays out the Chair’s understanding of negotiations as of that date. The document is attached below and is heavily bracketed meaning that at the time of the draft there was not agreement on the bracketed text or options were shown.
Some public submissions show that countries or groups of countries are still putting forward approaches on topics of importance. For example there are 2019 submissions on the following topics: fishing vessels not flying the member’s flag (e.g., TN/RL/GEN/201/Rev.1 (proposed prohibiting subsidies to such vessels)(Argentina, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, and Uruguay), on a cap-based approach to addressing certain fisheries subsidies [(TN/RL/GEN/197/Rev.2) and TN/RL/GEN/203)(Argentina, Australia, the United States, and Uruguay) vs. different approach put forward by China (TN/RL/199)], on whether different dispute settlement principles need to be considered (TN/RL/GEN/198, Canadian discussion paper), the breadth of special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries (TN/RL/200, submission from India).
Interestingly, a submission from New Zealand and Iceland in 2018 warned other WTO members that a focus on fishing in international waters vs. marine catch in national waters would result in any agreement addressing very little of the marine catch volume as would other overly narrow scope approaches:
‘6.SDG Target 14.6 is clear that subsidies that contribute to both overcapacity and overfishing must be prohibited. An outcome which excluded the most harmful types of subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing would therefore not satisfy SDG Target 14.6. An outcome that addressed capacity or overfishing in just a hortatory way or in a manner that applied disciplines only to a small subset of subsidies or the world’s fishing fleet would similarly fail to meet the requirements of SDG Target 14.6.
“7. For example, the current emphasis on subsidies to fishing beyond national jurisdiction is warranted given the weaker governance and resource and development impacts of such fishing. This however must not be at the exclusion of waters under national jurisdiction where the vast majority of global catch – 88% – is taken.1 Similarly, the emphasis on overfished stocks should not equate to an exception for other stocks as doing so would exclude nearly 70% of the world’s fisheries.2 Taken together, these two approaches alone would result in barely 8% of the world’s fisheries being subject to subsidy prohibitions.3 “2 FAO. 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. “3 Two thirds of fish stocks managed by RFMOs are overfished or depleted: Cullis-Suzuki, S. & Pauly, D. (2010). Failing the high seas: a global evaluation of regional fisheries management organization. Marine Policy 34: 1036–1042.”
Advancing Fisheries Subsidies Prohibitions on Subsidies Contributing to Overcapacity and Overfishing, TN/RL/W/275 at 2 (8 May 2018)(New Zealand and Iceland).
Will WTO Members Deliver Meaningful Fisheries Subsidies Reform
The fact that the negotiations have taken more tan 18 years and that major countries appear to remain widely apart on many key issues suggests that the road to success will be challenging.
For example, India’s proposal for S&D would result in large amounts of fisheries subsidies not being addressed by the agreement (whatever the scope of subsidies addressed) rendering any agreement of minimal assistance in fact if adopted following that approach.
There are significant differences in approaches to limiting subsidies as can be seen in the different cap approaches presented by China and a group of other countries (Argentina, Australia, the United States and Uruguay).
Similarly, there is a disconnect between the problems being addressed (overcapacity and overfishing) and the traditional role of S&D to eliminate, reduce and/or delay obligations. For the fisheries subsidies negotiations to achieve a meaningful result, the WTO Members need to revisit what the role of special and differential needs to be to achieve better marine catch for developing and least developed countries. The focus needs to be on helping LDCs and developing countries develop accurate data on marine catch, developing the capacity to participate in regional management programs, finding assistance to fishermen and fisherwomen affected by depleted marine catches to survive/choose alternative work until such time as sustainable levels of wild caught fish are again available. But all countries need to contribute to limiting fisheries subsidies where excess capacity or overfishing are the likely result.
And there is the U.S. position that S&D will only be approved in any new agreement if it is limited to those countries with an actual need (i.e., certain countries would not take such benefits). Considering the role of major countries like China and India in marine catch, one can expect challenges in having those countries (and possibly others) agree to forego S&D provisions.
Net/net – as most Members seem to be focused on the wrong questions, there is a reasonable probability that the Kazakhstan Ministerial will not see a meaningful set of disciplines adopted on fisheries subsidies to address the challenges to marine catch from overcapacity and overfishing.