The United States which has more confirmed cases (6,486,108) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (193,701), had a third two-week decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The most recent period is still 28.21% higher than what had been the prior peak during April 13-26 of 409,102 new cases. Even with the significant reduction in new cases in the August 31-September 13 period, the United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases is continuing to rapidly increase, and were 1,211,623 in the last two weeks (the first country to have more than one million cases in a two week period). Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are also falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30 and 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13. India, the United States and Brazil accounted for an extraordinary 58.34% of the new global cases during the last two weeks and account for 54.01% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019. The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 22.52% of total confirmed cases since December 2019. With the continued declining numbers in the last two weeks while the overall total of new cases grew, the U.S. was still 13.87% of new cases during August 17-30 or roughly three times the U.S. share of global population.
Continued growth of cases in the developing world
With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues although there has been some significant resurgence of new cases in a number of developed countries during the summer vacation period with a renewal of at least some international travel. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (143,681), Colombia (109,050), Peru (83,397), Mexico (72,261), Iraq (59,332), Indonesia (45,562), the Philippines (44,732), South Africa (25,663) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.
Developed country resurgencein new cases
With the reopening of some international travel and with the end of the summer holiday season, there has been a noticeable surge of new cases in a number of developed countries, particularly in Western Europe. Spain showed the largest increase of a developed country that had gotten the COVID-19 spread under control until recently. For August 17-30, Spain saw an additional 96,473 new cases. The August 31-September 13 period saw a further large increase for Spain to 127,040 cases. France nearly doubled the large number it had experienced in the August 17-30 period (57,009 new cases) in the latest two weeks, with new cases reaching 101,381. Germany was up slightly from the prior two weeks (17,538 new cases) at 17,657 new cases. Italy added 19,444; Romania added 16,553; the United Kingdom added 32,422; the Netherlands increased by 11,374; Czechia increased by 11,307. Other countries in Europe (Russia and Ukraine) as well as Israel also saw significant additional new cases.
The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (193,701) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,922) behind only India (15,088), though the U.S. number of new deaths declined from the prior two weeks while India’s number of new deaths continued to climb. The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Ecuador (24.91), Bolivia (20.49), Colombia (7.29), Argentina (6.48), Peru (6.11), Mexico (5.32), Brazil (5.09), Panama (4.05), Chile (3.77), Puerto Rico (3.65), Costa Rica (3.41) and the United States (3.32). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.02 deaths/100,000 population in the last two weeks.
If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through September 13, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 12.13 deaths. The ten countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (94.10), Belgium (86.59), Bolivia (63.38), Spain (63.38), Chile (62.76), Ecuador (62.53), United Kingdom (62.45), Brazil (62.17), Italy (58.98), the United States (58.86). With the exception of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (the European countries were typically less than 1 death per 100,000).
The world in the first eight months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been some resurgence in many of these countries as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased and as schools reopen in many countries. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (other than Canada), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in parts of Africa. Since most new cases are now in developing countries, it is unclear how many of these countries will be able to handle a significant number of cases, whether their healthcare infrastructure will be overwhelmed and whether they will have the medical goods needed to handle the cases safely.
The August 31-September 13 period has seen the global number of new cases growing after six weeks of what appeared to be a peak or plateau. That is not good news for the world as in many parts of the world schools are reopening and fall and winter will bring greater time indoors likely resulting in continued growth in new cases.
The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. Still the results of the phase three trials are not yet in and as a temporary delay by AstraZeneca with its phase three trial shows, the timing of outcomes remains unknown though anticipated by the end of 2020 and first part of 2021. Still the rollout of vaccines if approved will take time to get large parts of the global population vaccinated. This will likely place a large cloud over much if not all of 2021 even in an optimistic scenario.
Whether the world will rise to the challenges in terms of improving access to medical goods, to maintaining an open trading system, to aiding not only national populations but ensuring assistance to the most vulnerable, and when vaccines are approved to ensuring an equitable and affordable access by all are open questions. If the world is not able to collaborate on these issues, the 2020s will be a lost decade and will threaten global security.
The United States which has more confirmed cases than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19, had a second two-week decline in new cases. The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period. The most recent period is still 46.76% higher than what had been the prior peak during April 13-26 of 409,102 new cases. Even with the significant reduction in new cases in the August 17-30 period, the United States had the second largest number of new cases, following only India whose number of new cases is continuing to rise and were 953,051 in the last two weeks. Brazil maintains its hold on third place though its new cases are also falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16 and to 529,057 new cases during August 17-30. India, the United States and Brazil accounted for an extraordinary 58.5% of the new global cases during the last two weeks and account for 53.39% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019. The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 23.82% of total confirmed cases since December 2019. With the declining numbers in the last two weeks, the U.S. was still 16.87% of new cases during August 17-30 or roughly four times the U.S. share of global population.
Continued growth of cases in the developing world
With the number of new cases in the United States declining, the trend to new cases being focused on the developing world continues although there has been some significant resurgence of new cases in a number of developed countries during the summer vacation period with a renewal of at least some international travel. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Colombia (143,225), Peru (113,632), Argentina (109,585), Mexico (73,998), Iraq (54,863), the Philippines (55,213), South Africa (38,898) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases.
Spain showed the largest increase of a developed country that had gotten the COVID-19 spread under control until recently. For August 17-30, Spain saw an additional 96,473 new cases. France added 57,009 new cases; Germany saw 17,538 new cases. Other countries in Europe as well as Japan and Korea also saw significant additional new cases.
The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (182,779) and had the second largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (13,298) behind only India (13,518). The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population were the following: Colombia (8.45), Bolivia (8.12), Peru (7.79), Brazil (6.27), Argentina (6.12), Mexico (5.70), Panama (5.58),Chile (4.15), United States (4.04). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.01 deaths/100,000 population.
If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through August 30, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 11.10 deaths. The nine countries (of 71 which account for 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Belgium (86.34), Peru (87.99), United Kingdom (62.27), Spain (61.81), Chile (59.00), Italy (58.77), Brazil (57.08), Sweden (which did not impose any restrictions)(56.90), the United States (55.54). With the exception of Brazil, Chile, Peru and the United States, each of the other top countries overall has shown a drastic reduction since their peaks in April and as reflected in the experience in the last two weeks (all the European countries were less than 1 death per 100,000).
Race for vaccines
There have been many press articles looking at efforts by the United States, by the EU and by others to lock up large quantities of vaccines from companies whose vaccines are in third phase trials for early availability to their populations. See, e.g., European Commission, 14 August 2020, Coronavirus: Commission reaches first agreement on a potential vaccine, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1438. The Russian Federation has released a vaccine that did not go through a third phase trial and has received interest from some developing countries. After international criticism, the Russian Federation is now pursuing Phase 3 trials. AP, Putin touts Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine as effective and safe, August 27, 2020, https://apnews.com/f505b2fe730b56b558b8f76bf1932af0.
Beyond the national or regional efforts to secure priority for vaccines when developed, joint efforts continue as part of the WHO effort to ensure that vaccines and other medical goods relevant to addressing COVID-19 are available equitably to all people and at affordable prices. See, e.g., European Union, Coronavirus Global Response, https://global-response.europa.eu/index_en.
So while it may not be surprising to see countries looking first and foremost about the health of their own citizens, the World Health Organization has warned that no one is safe until all are safe from the COVID-19. The next six months to a year will be a test of whether the efforts of many to provide funding and other resources to ensure greater equitable access to vaccines at affordable prices can coexist with national efforts to prioritize their own citizens.
The world in the first eight months of 2020 is struggling to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania have greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been some resurgence in many of these countries as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased and as schools reopen in many countries. But the number of new cases continues to rage in much of the Americas (other than Canada), in parts of Asia (in particular India) and in parts of Africa. Since most new cases are now in developing countries, it is unclear how many of these countries will be able to handle a significant number of cases, whether their healthcare infrastructure will be overwhelmed and whether they will have the medical goods needed to handle the cases safely.
August has seen the global number of new cases peak and possibly start to decline. That is some good news although the number of new cases on a daily basis continues to strain the global supply system.
The progress on developing safe and effective vaccines is encouraging and has been sped by the willingness of major economies like the U.S. and the EU to fund manufacturing ahead of actual approval of the promising vaccines. While this puts a lot of money at risk should one or more of the vaccines in trials not prove safe or effective, it saves a great deal of time in getting product to market if approved. In a global economy in which least developed countries, small and vulnerable economies and other developing countries are experiencing significant economic challenges because of travel restrictions and trade contractions flowing from efforts to address the pandemic, achieving equitable and affordabale access to vaccines when available is a global imperative. Time will tell if the imperative is achieved or not.
These sharp contractions in U.S. and EU GDP reflect the effects of the actions by governments in the U.S. and in the EU to shut down parts of their economies in an effort to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sharp contractions would have been far worse but for government efforts to provide emergency funding to support companies, workers and local governments. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been far less severe in terms of cases and deaths in Japan and in other countries in Asia, contraction in GDP reflects both declining consumer spending and global effects of trade contraction that are occurring.
The sharp contractions in GDP from much of the developed world is consistent with projections by the IMF from June 2020. A summary table from the World Economic Outlook Update is copied below.
The hope was that after a sharp contraction in the second quarter, the world would experience a v-shaped recovery once the pandemic was brought under control in much of the world.
As we start August 2020, expectations are turning to a longer and shallower rebound in the third and fourth quarters of 2020 which will negatively affect billions of people. The world has not yet crested in terms of new COVID-19 cases and countries that had gotten the virus seemingly under control are seeing various levels of resurgence. The United States which never got the virus under control has seen a second surge that has reached levels at least twice as high as earlier levels of new cases and has seen a resurgence in hospitalizations and deaths.
There are a few bright spots. Some countries have managed to drastically reduce the spread of the virus and have been reopening in phases with limited recurrence. Moreover, a number of pharmaceutical companies have entered phase three trials of vaccines, and governments have fronted billions of dollars to build capacity for vaccines should they prove safe and effective. While major countries like the U.S. and the EU block have secured access to potentially hundreds of millions of doses from various companies should vaccines in trial receive approval for distribution, at least a number of these pharmaceutical companies (or consortia) have arrangements for massive production around the world including billions of doses for developing and least developed countries which should enable a more equitable and affordable distribution than may have been true in the past.
COVID-19, the number of new cases in the last fourteen days
Looking at the daily reports put out by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the world saw an additional 3,568,162 cases in the fourteen days ending August 2nd. This was an increase of some 550,000 from the previous fourteen days ending July 19 where new cases were 3,018,993. The July 19 two week figures were again up close to 550,000 from the period ending July 5 when there were 2,469,859 cases. The period ending June 21 has 1,932,024 new cases; the period ending June 7 had seen an additional 1,567,983 new cases. Thus, in less than two months the global number of new cases in a fourteen-day time period increased by 127.56 percent. The COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 2 August 2020 is embedded below.
Fourteen of the forty-two countries or customs territories that I have been tracking who account for more than 90% of total cases and total deaths from the pandemic continue to not have peaked in terms of two week number of new cases. See July 21, 2020, COVID-19 – the United States continues to spin out of control with increasing shortages of medical goods; sharp increases in developing countries in the Americas and parts of Asia, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/07/21/covid-19-the-united-states-continues-to-spin-out-of-control-with-increasing-shortages-of-medical-goods-sharp-increases-in-developing-countries-in-the-americas-and-parts-of-asia/. Japan, which had peaked a number of months ago, has a resurgence of cases, so much so that the last two weeks (11,439 new cases) exceed any other two week period for the country. Other countries which have not peaked include the United States (908,980 new cases), India (673,105 new cases) Brazil (633,017 new cases), Colombia (115,481 new cases), Mexico (95,280 new cases), Argentina (72,001 new cases) and these additional countries — Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, and the Philippines). South Africa peaked in the prior two week period but still had an additional 152,411 new cases (93.56% of its peak).
Many developed countries have seen sharp increases in the last two weeks, albeit from much lower levels than in the spring. These include Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Many developing and least-developed countries in Central and South America, Africa and parts of Asia are seeing growing numbers of cases. While some of these countries have seen a peak in the number of new cases, for others that is not true. India and Brazil are continuing to struggle to contain the spread as are the Latin and Asian countries reviewed above.
In the last two weeks, the United States had more new cases per 100,000 population than all of the other 41 countries being monitored other than Brazil and Panama. The U.S. number of new cases per 100,000 population was 5.88 times the number for all countries (including the U.S) and 4-50 times as high as major EU countries. And on deaths in the last fourteen days, the U.S. has more deaths per 100,000 population than all of the other 41 countries other than Brazil, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Panama. The U.S. death rate in the last fourteen days is 3.95 times the rate/100,000 population for the entire world and 25-87 times the rate for major EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain).
WTO Members have the opportunity to adopt rules to minimize trade disruptions and expedite economic recovery
Many Members of the WTO have submitted proposals for action by the Membership to minimize the harm to global economies and trade flows from addressing trade restrictions, trade liberalization possibilities and other matters within the WTO’s wheelhouse.
The WTO, being a member-driven organization, requires the WTO Members to come together for the common good if progress is to be made. While recent actions on seemingly non-substantive issues, like selecting an acting Director-General (largely an administrative function pending selection of a new Director-General), lay bare the lack of trust and widely divergent views among WTO Members, adopting basic principles for getting through the pandemic should be a win-win for all Members.
The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to wreak havoc across the globe with new cases and new deaths continuing to mount. The health consequences are severe and are increasingly shifting to developing and least-developed countries. However, some developed countries, like the U.S., have not gotten the virus under control. Moreover, a number of countries who have had success controlling the spread of COVID-19 are seeing a resurgence as reopening of economies continues. This has led some countries to slow or even reverse some of the reopening steps.
As the sharp economic contractions in major developed economies attest, there are huge economic costs to dealing with the pandemic. The economic rebound is unlikely to be as strong or as quick as many have hoped. While much of what is needed is focus by each country and its citizenry to follow the science and get the pandemic under control, there is also an important role for multilateral organizations to play in keeping markets open, providing financing for those in need and more. The WTO has a potentially important role on the trade front. It is unclear that WTO Members will embrace the opportunities presented, but if Members would it would reduce the depth of the trade contraction and help speed economic recovery.
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.