Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has called on the government of Ghana to as a matter of urgency, take steps to ratify the WTO’s new agreement it has reached on fisheries subsidy.
The WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies was adopted at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) on 17 June 2022. It marked a major step forward for ocean sustainability by prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies, which are a key factor in the widespread depletion of the world’s fish stocks.
The agreement represents a historic achievement for the membership of the WTO as the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to be fully met, the first SDG target met through a multilateral agreement, the first WTO agreement to focus on the environment, the first broad, binding, multilateral agreement on ocean sustainability, and only the second agreement reached at the WTO since its inception on 1 January 1995.
For the agreement to become operational, two-thirds of the 164 members of the World Trade Organization have to deposit their “instruments of acceptance” with the WTO.
Addressing President Akufo-Addo at the Jubilee House when she led her delegation to pay a courtesy call on him today Tuesday 25 April 2023, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, say her organization has “succeeded after 21 years of deadlock to reach an agreement on the fisheries subsidy agreement.
“We were able to agree on doing away with 22 billion dollars in harmful subsidies that lead to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and we are actually negotiation a second phase of the agreement to deal with over fishing and over capacity.
“But on the first phase, it is very important because 12 million people in Africa depend on fisheries and some of the things, we found out are that Africa is losing 2.3 billion dollars from IUU fishing (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) and 3 billion dollars from over fishing and over capacity and those are, I will say, minimal estimates,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
“So, we are losing a lot of money by other people coming and fishing in our waters, and there is nothing we can do to get away with it. This agreement will enable us to first get them to phase out all those subsidies. The fishing will not be economic without the subsidies that the countries are giving that is the issue. Phasing them out will then make it economic” she added.
According to the WTO boss, the second thing that the fisheries subsidy agreement will introduce when it comes into force is that, it will require fisher folk to “be transparent about their fisheries numbers and anyone who catches and can report these illegal and unreported fishing, can bring them to the WTO tribunal” to seek justice.
“We need to stop illegal fishing and overfishing in our waters. We have managed to get this agreement, but for it to take hold, it has to be ratified by two-thirds of WTO’s members.
“We have 44 African countries. If we don’t get them to ratify, we will never get the two thirds. So, I wanted to get your excellency’s [President Akufo-Addo’s] support. If we can get Ghana to ratify and the ECOWAS countries to do the same, it will be very helpful” the WTO director general stated.
“We need 109 members to ratify. The good news is that the first to ratify is Switzerland and [everybody joked] that it is a landlock country so it has no fish to fry so to say, but then Singapore ratified and the first African country to ratify was Seychelles.
“What shocked us was three weeks ago when the US called me that they were trying to ratify. No one believed it because they have not been as rapid.
“Last week, I got a call, and she (Katherine Tai is the principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on the U.S. trade policy) said, “Are you coming to the IMF meeting in Washington?” I said, “But why?” She said we think we would have finished with the process for the ratification.” So, the US has ratified, and that sent shock waves” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala added.
“The [European Union] EU parliament has voted to ratify but it has to go to the European Council with the presidents and they say it will be [considered on the 1 June 2023] so we will get all the 27 EU members on the 1 June [to ratify].
“I don’t want Africa to be behind because we are the biggest beneficiaries. The largest subsidizers are China (6.8 billion), followed by the EU (3.8 billion), the US (3.4 billion), and among others” she further remarked.
Wave of digital trading
Turning her attention to digitalization and the prospects of digital trading, the WTO boss noted that she has taken notice of the systematic efforts Ghana is making in the area of digitalization.
She indicated that digital trade is certainly going to be the next biggest thing in the trading of goods and services globally, and Ghana’s efforts in that regard must continue and grow.
“We see that digital trade is the wave of the future. Total global trade is about 31 trillion dollars, of that, goods trade [merchandise trade] is 25 trillion, service 7 trillion.
“Within that service, digital services trade is growing the fastest and it is about half of it, 4 trillion and it is growing rapidly at 8% per annum compared to other types of trade,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
“We are thinking that this is an area where our countries can benefit. When we look, Ghana seems to be doing well in providing some digitally traded services and professional services in business out-sourcing. Investing in the digital economy is very good because that is going to be the wave of the future” she added.
President Akufo-Addo, in his response, welcomed the call made by the WTO director general for Ghana to ratify the fisheries subsidy agreement.
He directed the Minister for Trade and Industry, K.T. Hammond to liaise with the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture to see how best Ghana can give consideration to the agreement for purposes of getting it ratified.
President Akufo-Addo also affirmed the observation of the WTO boss by indicating that Ghana is indeed making a big investment by digitalizing it operations at all levels of social life and in the areas of trade and service delivery.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments.
The goal of the WTO is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably, and freely as possible. The WTO has many roles: it operates a global system of trade rules, it acts as a forum for negotiating trade agreements, it settles trade disputes between its members and it supports the needs of developing countries.
All major decisions are made by the WTO’s member governments: either by ministers (who usually meet at least every two years) or by their ambassadors or delegates (who meet regularly in Geneva). A number of simple, fundamental principles form the foundation of the multilateral trading system.
The primary purpose of the WTO is to open trade for the benefit of all. The WTO’s top decision-making body is the Ministerial Conference. Below this is the General Council and various other councils and committees. Ministerial conferences usually take place every two years.
The General Council is the top day-to-day decision-making body. It meets a number of times a year in Geneva. The WTO has over 160 members representing 98 percent of world trade. Over 20 countries are seeking to join the WTO.
To join the WTO, a government has to bring its economic and trade policies in line with WTO rules and negotiate its terms of entry with the WTO membership. The WTO has approximately 650 staff on its regular budget.