In a recent joint statement Tony Burke, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Mark Arbib, Federal Minister for Employment Participation announced a number of government support measures to help tuna fishermen in Port Lincoln (Souther overcome the crisis triggered by severe cuts in the catch quotas for Southern Bluefin tuna.
I quote here some of the paragraphs that I found most interesting when reading the media release.
"Senator Arbib said support for the Port Lincoln workforce includes immediate access to Stream 2 Government employment services and funding for 150 nationally recognised training places for affected workers."
“These measures will ensure that workers receive fast, personalised assistance to help them get back into the workforce,” Senator Arbib said.
“Support for tuna fishers in Port Lincoln is essential to ensure the sustainability of the community and the industry,” Mr Burke said
We want to see Australia’s Southern Bluefin Tuna industry continue as a sustainable industry for the long term. That's the best option for jobs and regional economies.
Thus, the subsidies appear to aim, prima facie, at keeping the fishermen in the fishery. Such subsidies could be identified as "prohibited" in the sense of Article I.1(c) of the draft text agreement submitted by the Chair of the negotiating group, Ambassador Valles from Uruguay, to WTO negotiators. This is what one could deduct when reading Article II "General Exceptions" of the same draft text, in particular Article II (c), on exceptions to prohibited subsidies covering personnel costs.
I copy here Article II (c) of the draft text:
For the purposes of Article I.1(c), subsidies to cover personnel costs shall not be interpreted as including:
(1) subsidies exclusively for re-education, retraining or redeployment of fishworkers into occupations unrelated to marine wild capture fishing or directly associated activities; and
(2) subsidies exclusively for early retirement or permanent cessation of employment of fishworkers as a result of government policies to reduce marine wild capture fishing capacity or effort.
Though there is an important caveat on finding that the Australian subsidies would be prohibited. Indeed, if the subsidies are not specific to the fisheries sector, i.e. if they are available to all workers, irrespective whether they are fishermen or not, then they should not fall under the prohibition.
In relation to this issue of "specificity" I remember that the ICTSD had published in February 2008 an article by Marc Bénitah (remember my post of 22/5/09 on experts testifying at the Canadian House of Commons) titled "Five Suggestions for Clarifying the Draft Text on Fisheries Subsidies". One of this suggestions was "Determine specificity". Watch this spot.
Here is the link to the official press release:
And here the link to the article by Marc Bénitah in ICTSD's "Bridges" Volume 12 • Number 1 • February 2008: