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Philippine fishers warn against sectoral talks in WTO

A national coalition of 14 fisher federations warned against mandatory "sectoral" talks in the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that it would only benefit rich countries that wanted more market access for their products.

In a statement on Friday, the Kilusang Mangingisda (Fisherfolk Movement) denounced the Philippine negotiators’ refusal earlier this month to join the NAMA 11 group of countries against mandatory or compulsory sectoral talks. Sectoral talks refer to a type of negotiations in the WTO that would cover specific industries.

The group said this refusal was tantamount to favoring mandatory sectoral talks that would result in further tariff reductions since they are pushed by the US and other rich nations that would benefit from the opening up of markets in developing countries.

"Any sectoral talks would likely result in bigger tariff cuts than those prescribed in the NAMA tariff-binding formula that developing countries already find unacceptable," said Roland Vibal, the fourth-quarter chairperson of Kilusang Mangingisda.

On Friday, which was World Fishers Day, about 200 members of Kilusang Mangingisda also picketed the offices of the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture and Asian Development Bank to protest against policies promoting fisheries trade liberalization.

Vibal noted that the steep tariff cuts being prescribed under the NAMA binding formula, as well as further tariff cuts from future sectoral talks in fisheries, only validate the position of Kilusang Mangingisda that the fisheries sector should be excluded from the WTO negotiations.

Vibal said that Kilusang Mangingisda agrees with the recent NAMA-11 statement on the sectoral talks issue. "We agree that removing tariffs in a range of sectors would be contrary to the Doha round’s development mandate, which calls for developing countries to have smaller tariff cuts than those of rich nations in accordance with the principles of special and differential treatment and less than full reciprocity," he said.

Kilusang Mangingisda took the country’s trade and agriculture departments to task for their leading roles in the free trade negotiations in the WTO and in regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), especially with China, Japan and the European Union. "They are responsible for exposing fledgling local industries to unfair competition from the heavily subsidized goods of rich countries and for risking the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Filipino workers and small producers," Vibal noted.

He added that international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are also to blame for promoting disastrous private-sector investments in the fisheries sector.

"Over the years, they have extended loans amounting to billions of US dollars in the Philippines and other developing countries to encourage investments in intensive shrimp aquaculture for the world market. But these investments have caused massive mangrove deforestation and dislocation of small fishers from mangrove-based fishing grounds, even as the export profits from shrimp aquaculture have not trickled down to the host coastal communities," he said.