WTO: Council approves an agreement on fisheries subsidies to boost environmental sustainability

On 25 May 2023, the Council adopted a decision approving, on behalf of the EU, the conclusion of a World Trade Organization (WTO) protocol establishing a fisheries subsidies agreement.

The WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is the first WTO agreement that focuses on environmental sustainability, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 (UN SDG). It includes:

  1. a strong prohibition of subsidies contributing to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing with unprecedented transparency provisions.
  2. an absolute prohibition of subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas.
  3. a provision on overfished stocks will bring sustainability rules for subsidies regarding the most vulnerable stocks in the first phase of the agreement.

12th WTO Ministerial Conference

At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that took place on 12-17 June 2022 in Geneva, consensus was reached on the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference adopted the Protocol Amending the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization by inserting the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, into the Marrakech Agreement after the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. The protocol was opened for acceptance by WTO members.

The Agreement

The Agreement includes substantial limitations on subsidising unsustainable fishing, notably:

  • prohibition of subsidies to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
  • prohibition of subsidies for fishing outside of the jurisdiction of a coastal State and outside the competence of a relevant regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO/A) to protect the most vulnerable areas lacking established and coordinated fisheries management regime
  • prohibition of subsidies to fishing regarding overfished stocks conditional on sustainability standards to rebuild such stocks to healthy level
  • disciplines regarding subsidies benefitting vessels not flying the flag of the subsidising Member
  • extensive transparency and notification provisions to monitor the implementation of the Agreement


  • on 9 November 2022, the Commission submitted to the Council a proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion
  • on 5 December 2022, the Council forwarded the draft Decision on the conclusion to the European Parliament for its consent
  • the European Parliament provided its consent to the conclusion of the protocol on 19 April 2023

Next steps

The Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies will enter into force once two-thirds of WTO members have completed their domestic ratification processes. WTO Members also agreed at MC12 to continue negotiations on outstanding issues, with a view to making recommendations by MC13 for additional provisions that would further enhance the disciplines of the Agreement.
The decision was taken without discussion at a meeting of the FAC (Trade) Council.