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Statement by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on World Oceans Day

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ambassador Ron Kirk releases the following statement in observance of the first World Oceans Day.

"Last year, the United Nations first proclaimed June 8 as World Oceans Day. This observance is a time to reflect on the importance of the world's oceans to our planet's health. World Oceans Day is also a timely reminder of the many pressures the oceans face.

"Millions of people depend on the oceans for their food and livelihood, yet fish stocks are declining at an alarming rate due to fishing fleet overcapacity and overfishing. I am pleased that trade ministers play a constructive role in helping to address some of these challenges.

"In the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda negotiations, the United States is a leader in pressing for stronger rules that prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. We will continue to seek an ambitious outcome in those negotiations, as well as explore other ways that trade policy can help the oceans support healthy fish stocks for generations to come."

BACKGROUND

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 8 as World Oceans Day (resolution 63/111, paragraph 171), and on June 8, we will observe World Oceans Day for the first time. The concept of an "Oceans Day" (a counterpart to "Earth Day") was first proposed following the first "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro (UN Conference on Environment and Development) in 1992.

The oceans face many problems - not least, those caused by the great expansion of the global fishing fleet since the 1970s. Today, there are far too many boats chasing too few fish. As a result, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 80% of the world's fish stocks are depleted, overfished or fished to their sustainable limits, with no room for expansion. A 2008 World Bank/FAO report estimates that economic losses in marine fisheries resulting from overfishing add up to US $50 billion per year. Nearly a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and many millions depend on fishing for all or part of their income, with the greatest dependence being in the developing world.

It is generally recognized that large amounts of government subsidies worldwide contribute significantly to this problem. In response, the United States and a broad coalition of developed and developing countries pushed for inclusion of a separate mandate in the WTO Doha Development Agenda to strengthen WTO rules on fisheries subsidies. The United States and other "Friends of Fish" -- a group of developed and developing countries committed to ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks -- are leaders in the negotiations and are seeking a prohibition of harmful subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. The negotiations are taking place in the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules.