Agriculture is a sector that is distorted by subsidies and high trade barriers, but directly affecting access to food, fibres for clothing and other materials, and the livelihoods of farmers around the world. WTO members have taken steps to address these distortions impeding a fairer agricultural trading system and adopted in 2015a historic decision to abolish agricultural export subsidies and to set rules for other forms of farm export support. WTO also launched negotiations to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, including through a prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. The challenge now facing the negotiators is to develop stronger rules while respecting the important policy concerns of WTO members, particularly developing and least-developed countries.
At the WTO's 10th Ministerial Conference held in Nairobi in 2015, WTO Members made a substantial contribution towards correcting and preventing distortions in world agriculture markets through the adoption of the WTO Ministerial Decision on Export Competition. This decision eliminates export subsidies and sets out new rules for export credits, international food aid and exporting state trading enterprises. By ensuring that countries will no longer be able to resort to trade-distorting export subsidies (and measures of equivalent effect), this decision will help to level the playing field in agriculture, aiding farmers in many developing and least developed countries. In terms of volume, export subsidy budgetary outlays have peaked in 2003, but have indeed been consistently reduced to historical lows in both developed and developing countries.
Achieving an outcome on fisheries subsidies has been identified by a broad spectrum of Members as a critical area for action at the organization’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) taking place in Buenos Aires in December 2017. To date, four proposals have been put forward with the stated aim of achieving SDG target 14.6 by disciplining harmful fisheries subsidies, while also providing special and differential treatment for developing and LDC members. In parallel, a group of Members has launched a plurilateral initiative seeking an ambitious, high standard agreement on fisheries subsidies among like-minded participants, while at the same time working with all WTO Members to make progress toward a multilateral agreement in the WTO. At the occasion of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (July 2016), FAO, UNEP and UNCTAD presented a roadmap towards ending harmful fishing subsidies. Over 90 UN member States signed up to support the roadmap which includes a four-point plan: (i) Require countries to provide information on what subsidies they are providing; (ii) Prohibit those subsidies which contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing; (iii) Introduce new policy tools to deter the introduction of new harmful subsidies; and (iv) Provide special and differential treatment to developing countries. The roadmap also received support from international and regional governmental organizations and global civil society organizations, including the Commonwealth and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), WWF, Oceana, CUTS International and International Institute of Sustainable Development.