Deal on fisheries possible in 2020, WTO chair and official say

GENEVA, June 30 (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization (WTO) aims to secure an agreement on cutting fisheries subsidies this year, the chair of the talks and a WTO official said on Tuesday, despite the cancellation of a major meeting due to COVID-19.

The Geneva-based watchdog has been seeking a deal for 20 years on eliminating billions of dollars in subsidies including from China and the European Union, a move environmentalists say is needed to protect fish stocks.

An agreement is also important for the credibility of the WTO, which has not reached a multilateral deal for years and is currently seeking a new chief at a critical juncture.

“I’m trying to move these negotiations as fast as members can go so that we can deliver by 2020,” said Colombia’s Ambassador Santiago Wills, current chair of the talks, at a webinar organised by Friends of Ocean Action.

“I’m confident that if there is political will and technical will from the negotiators we will manage to deliver that in 2020.”

Wills sent a six-page ‘draft consolidated text’ last week to members in which he urges them to work “as quickly and efficiently as possible” and to be ready to compromise on the final text.

The WTO scrapped its major biennial meeting due to be held in Kazakhstan this month due to concerns over coronavirus and a new date has not been set.

A deal could be reached outside of that timeframe, delegates say, at a General Council meeting in December.

The U.S. ambassador to the WTO, Dennis Shea, has previously voiced support for a December deal. Members will give feedback on the text next month.

Nigeria’s candidate to lead the WTO also told Reuters she would aim for a multilateral deal on fisheries, citing “considerable progress” in recent talks. (Reporting by Emma Farge Editing by Gareth Jones)