WTO chief rebukes countries over stalled fishing negotiations

German Chancellor Scholz meets with representatives of international financial and economic organizations in Berlin
World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attends a news conference following a meeting at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 29, 2022. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

GENEVA, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The head of the World Trade Organization chided countries for failing to make headway on negotiations covering fishing and agriculture because of infighting over who should lead them.

The WTO broke a multi-year deal-making drought in June by clinching a series of agreements at a major trade conference in Geneva in June, including a fisheries deal. But since then, little has happened because of a deadlock over who should chair the fisheries and agriculture talks, delegates said.

Delegates told Reuters that a proposal was floated for Turkey and Norway's ambassadors to lead the agricultural and fisheries negotiations but these choices were rejected by India, delegates said. Pakistan preferred a Sri Lankan candidate.

The decision is important since key aspects of the fisheries deal, which aims to cut billions of dollars in subsidies that are emptying the ocean of marine life, remain unresolved.

"Six months of not negotiating is not acceptable," WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told countries in a closed-door meeting of its General Council, according to remarks relayed by the body's spokesperson late on Monday.

She was referring to the period of time from the June package to the present which encompasses the summer break and the months since the departure of the previous chairs. Okonjo-Iweala is aiming for further deals by the next ministerial meeting in the United Arab Emirates in February 2024.

"While WTO members are not doing the job, fish stocks continue to decline at an alarming rate," said Remi Parmentier, director of the Varda Group, a think-tank focused on biodiversity.

WTO spokesperson Dan Pruzin told journalists it was "never easy" to choose chairs of negotiations but said this case was proving "particularly difficult", without elaborating.

The deadlock comes at a time when the WTO's 164 members are also unable to agree on whether to extend a temporary intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines to drugs.

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Evans

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