The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Tuesday called on the government of Ghana to urgently take steps to ratify the WTO’s new agreement on fisheries subsidy.
In a meeting with President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the Jubilee House, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the WTO had “succeeded after 21 years of deadlock to reach an agreement on the fisheries subsidy agreement.
The agreement which was adopted at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) on 17 June 2022, marked a major step towards ocean sustainability by prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies, which are key to the widespread depletion of the world’s fish stocks.
The agreement represents a historic and a landmark achievement by the membership of the WTO as the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to be fully met.
For the agreement to become operational, two-thirds of the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation have to deposit their “instruments of acceptance” with the WTO.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stressed that members were able to agree on doing away with 22 billion dollars in harmful subsidies that led to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and added that they were actually negotiation a second phase of the agreement to deal with over fishing and over capacity.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the achievement of first phase was imperative Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as over 12 million people in Africa depended on fisheries and others.
“We found out 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.
The WTO Boss said Africa was losing a lot of money to other countries who were fishing in their waters, and stressed that the agreement would enable Africa first get those countries to phase out all subsidies on fishing.
Finishing, according to her would not make economic sense for Africans without the subsidies that those foreign countries give to their fishing industry, adding: “Phasing them out will then make economically viable.
According to the WTO boss, the second thing that the fisheries subsidy agreement will introduce when enforced, would require fisher folks to “be transparent about their fishery 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, Okonjo-Iweala stated adding: “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.
In all, 109 members to need to ratify and the first to ratify was Switzerland, a landlocked country, then Singapore ratified and the first African country to ratify was Seychelles. And just last week, the US ratified which has “sent shock waves.
The [European Union] EU parliament has voted to ratify but it has to go to the European Council where the presidents are expected to consider hopefully 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, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated. The largest subsidisers are China (6.8 billion), followed by the EU (3.8 billion), the US (3.4 billion), and among others.”
Speaking to the benefits and prospects of digitalisation, the WTO boss said she had taken notice of the systematic efforts and strides Ghana is making and commended government for its efforts in that area.
She said digital trade is certainly would surely 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 the service industry, digital service trade is growing the fastest rate amounting to 4 trillion and growing at 8% per annum compared to other types of trade,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
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 WTO boss perspectives on Ghana’s digitisation drive and the huge investment government is making at digitalising operations at all levels of social life and in the areas of trade and service delivery.
Rex Mainoo Yeboah, ISD