context: China has long been blamed for enjoying the special treatment accorded developing countries in WTO negotiations. However, subsidies historically enjoyed by developed countries provide the key argument why Chinese negotiators cling to the subsidies accorded developing countries during WTO talks. China submitted a new fishery subsidies proposal to the WTO, capping fishery subsidies that led to overcapacity and over-fishing in June 2019. Subsidies for the Chinese ocean fishery sector have declined in recent years, with progress on promoting transparency and sustainability in the industry.

Ocean fisheries go beyond trade and resource sustainability, but overlap with historical and political factors, argues Han Yang 韩杨 SC (State Council) Development Research Centre rural economic research director. Acknowledging that fishery subsidies contribute to over-fishing, Han cited the historical precedent of such subsidies, criticising more developed countries for having benefited from subsidies decades ago, at a time when developing countries lagged behind because of limited budgets.

Developing countries with large subsistence-based fishery sectors should enjoy appropriate special and differentiated treatment to protect the livelihood and food security of their over 50 million fishermen, suggests Han. She also laid out other issues for negotiators to consider

  • what kind of subsidies should be reported
  • how to set up rules on subsidies
  • how to monitor and reduce subsidies on a fair basis