International think tank Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) has backed the Philippine government on its stand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and harmful fisheries subsidies.

Motorized outriggers rest on the shore of a coastal village in Davao City. (Photo via Keith Bacongco / FILE PHOTO)

On Tuesday, SEARCA Director and Chief Executive Officer Glenn Gregorio issued his official comments and notes regarding the revised draft of the consolidated chair text on WTO’s negotiating group on rules, particularly on fisheries subsidies.

“Recognizing the importance of conserving coastal and marine resources, as further emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14: Life below water), we support the call that, ‘no member shall grant or maintain any subsidy to a vessel or operator engaged in IUU fishing’,” said Gregorio.

SEARCA is an international research organization established in 1966 to build capacities in agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. It serves 11 Southeast Asian countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

In a virtual ministerial meeting last week, the delegation of the Philippines, led by Agriculture Secretary William Dar and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, called for the WTO panel to continue hearing cases of harmful subsidies even if the fishing operation occurred on the so-called “disputed waters”.

Dar and Lopez also called on fellow agriculture and trade ministers to speed up negotiations to come up with new disciplines to eliminate subsidies that contribute IUU) fishing, overfished stocks, and overcapacity and overfishing.

The Philippine government’s WTO stand was also recently supported by another group, Tugon Kabuhayan. On Monday, Tugon Kabuhayan Convenor and former Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) National Director Asis Perez said the Philippine government should assert its position regarding harmful subsidies that bigger countries like China provide their commercial fleets.

Norberto Chingcuanco, co-convenor at food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan, said that in China alone, commercial fleets receive P325 billion in fisheries subsidies, enabling them to encroach even in disputed waters such as in the Philippines.

However, Gregorio said that to support its stand at the WTO, the Philippines should have “systematic resource assessments” in order to know the actual status of the Philippine fisheries. This is amid having incomplete comprehensive national baseline data across the country.

Given that coastal communities remain among the poorest in the country, he said that effective and sustained management of coastal resources is important to enhance the production of fish and other marine products, including the provision of livelihood and increase in incomes of the fisher households.

SEARCA is based in the Philippines and is headquartered at the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

Source: Manila Bulletin (