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Oceans in a bad state, say trade officials

THE world's seas are filled with too much garbage and too few fish with flimsy plastic bags and government subsidies bearing much of the blame, activists and trade officials said on Monday, the first United Nations World Oceans Day.

The World Trade Organization's Director-General Pascal Lamy used the occasion to note that some species are at risk of extinction from over-fishing, and government subsidies bear some of the blame.

"Governments have contributed to this problem by providing nearly US$16 billion annually in subsidies to the fisheries sector," Lamy said. "This support keeps more boats on the water and fewer fish in the sea."

He said WTO members are now negotiating to reform subsidies programs to make fishing a sustainable industry.

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk echoed those sentiments, saying the US is pushing for stronger rules against "harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing."

Eighty percent of the world's fisheries are under pressure, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization: overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from over-exploitation.

Global fisheries subsidies are estimated at US$20 billion or more annually, an amount equivalent to 25 percent of the value of the world catch. Economic losses from over-fishing in marine areas are US$50 billion a year, according to a 2008 World Bank/FAO report.

"International trade can play a key role in protecting the world's oceans," Courtney Sakai of the group Oceana said in a statement reacting to Lamy's and Kirk's comments. "The WTO is in the unlikely position of producing one of the most significant actions to stop global over-fishing."


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