The United States and 12 other countries will start World Trade Organization negotiations to ban harmful fishery subsidies, particularly those that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity in the sector or are linked to illegal fishing, they said Wednesday.
The countries said in a joint statement issued on the eve of a major oceans conference in Washington that 31 percent of the world's fisheries were operating at biologically unsustainable levels, with 58 percent at maximum levels with no room to grow.
"Fisheries subsidies, estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars annually, create significant distortions in global fish markets and are a major factor contributing to overfishing and overcapacity and the depletion of fisheries resources," the group said in the statement.
Besides the United States, the fishing anti-subsidy coalition includes Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Singapore, Switzerland and Uruguay.
The WTO negotiations also will aim to strengthen the reporting and transparency of fishery subsidies.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the coalition was trying to ensure the long-term sustainability of global fisheries, which support more than 50 million workers. Another 3 billion people, often in poor countries, rely on food from the ocean as a significant source of protein.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which has not been approved by the U.S. Congress and may not see a vote before President Barack Obama leaves office in January, includes a ban on harmful fishery subsidies among its 12 member countries.
"The United States has been a leader on this issue," Froman said in a statement. "We are eager to join with similarly committed WTO members to negotiate new rules that will help protect the marine environment and allow American fishermen and women to compete on a fair and level playing field."
U.S. fishing industries support 1.4 million jobs, generate $42 billion in income and contribute $64 billion annually to U.S. economic output, the USTR said.