What’s at stake in WTO talks on fishing rules?

A man fishes near the Hamanako hotel in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan July 15, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 July 2021
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What’s at stake in WTO talks on fishing rules?

  • Environmentalists want subsidies that promote unsustainable fishing axed

GENEVA: Negotiators at the World Trade Organization have been trying for 20 years to agree how to cap subsidies that contribute to the overfishing of the world’s seas and oceans.

They missed a deadline of December 2020 fixed by the United Nations to clinch a deal, although they did finally agree last year on the definition of “fish.”

The portion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels has plunged from 90 percent in 1990 to less than 66 percent in 2017, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, with some regions such as the Mediterranean significantly lower.

Environmentalists say knocking out subsidies that promote unsustainable fishing is the single most important thing governments can do to help reverse the decline.

A deal would also help dispel doubts about the usefulness of the WTO itself.

Governments have been subsidising their fleets for centuries for reasons ranging from food security or pressure from industry lobbies to simple national pride.

Global marine catches kept growing after World War 2, peaked at 86 million tons in 1996 and have stayed around that level ever since.

Without government intervention, a reduction in catches would put some fishermen out of business. But subsidies that reduce their operating costs, for instance for fuel, mean they can continue.

This is creating what fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly at the University of British Columbia describes as a “race to the bottom,” with countries that have depleted stocks in their own waters travelling further to compete for those that remain.

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that an ambitious deal at the WTO could boost the amount of fish in the world by 12.5 percent by 2050, based on a model it shared with negotiators. 

However, the measures contained in a recent draft were only projected to produce an increase of less than 2 percent.

Among the biggest losers from the current subsidies are developing countries such as Senegal whose economies rely heavily on fishing but who do not have resources to develop large industrial fleets to compete with those entering their waters.

This can deprive locals of both livelihoods and a vital source of protein. A fall in stocks of predator fish including white groupers has forced Senegalese fishing boats to switch to smaller sardinella.

The environmental impact of subsidies is also being felt on the high seas, beyond nations’ territorial waters.

Some activists point to the Indian Ocean as a key example, where 94 percent of yellowfin tuna stocks are overfished and the biggest single fleet is from the EU, according to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

There are also concerns that hundreds of Chinese squid jiggers that come to fish near the Galapagos Islands each year will deplete stocks and rob other species such as tuna, fur seals and hammerhead sharks of their prey.

Global subsidies are estimated at $35.4 billion according to a 2019 study published in Marine Policy.

The top five subsidisers are China, the EU, the US, South Korea and Japan, it said. However, not all subsidies are considered “harmful” and some would not be covered by any WTO agreement.

Without subsidies, much high-seas fishing would not be profitable, including damaging deep-sea bottom trawling, a 2018 article in Science Advances said.

A previous round of talks ended in discord at the last WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in 2017. But analysts warn that coming away empty-handed again would be a major blow to an organisation that has not landed a multilateral deal in years.

In this round of talks, led by Colombia’s Santiago Wills, five draft versions of the agreement have been produced.

Negotiators say the most vexed outstanding issue is the size of exemptions for developing countries, with countries including India pushing for big carve-outs.

Alongside that, Beijing opposes attempts to limit subsidies for fishing on the high seas. And some delegates see proposals such as one made by Washington in May to address the use of forced labour - a hidden subsidy - as unhelpful since they are unlikely to be agreed by all 164 members.

Many negotiators see the virtual format of the July meeting, made necessary by coronavirus measures, as a handicap.


EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

  • The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe

RIYADH: EU states on Tuesday gave their final backing to landmark rules on artificial intelligence that will govern powerful systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The European Parliament had already approved the law in March and it will now enter into force after being published in the official EU journal in the coming days.

The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe.

First proposed in 2021, the rules took on greater urgency after ChatGPT arrived in 2022, showing generative AI’s human-like ability to produce eloquent text within seconds.

Other examples of generative AI include Dall-E and Midjourney, which can produce images in nearly any style with a simple input in everyday language. The law known as the “AI Act” takes a risk-based approach: if a system is high-risk, a company has a tougher set of obligations to fulfill to protect citizens’ rights.

There are strict bans on using AI for predictive policing and systems that use biometric information to infer an individual’s race, religion or sexual orientation. Companies will have to comply by 2026 but rules covering AI models like ChatGPT will apply 12 months after the law becomes official.

Pledge

The world’s leading companies pledged at the start of a mini summit on AI to develop the technology safely, including pulling the plug if they can’t rein in the most extreme risks.

World leaders are expected to hammer out further agreements on artificial intelligence as they gathered virtually to discuss AI’s potential risks but also ways to promote its benefits and innovation.

The AI Seoul Summit is a low-key follow-up to November’s high-profile AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in the UK, where participating countries agreed to work together to contain the potentially “catastrophic” risks posed by breakneck advances in AI.

The two-day meeting — co-hosted by South Korea and the UK — also comes as major tech companies like Meta, OpenAI and Google roll out the latest versions of their AI models.

They’re among 16 AI companies that made voluntary commitments to AI safety as the talks got underway, according to a British government announcement. 

The companies, which also include Amazon, Microsoft, France’s Mistral AI, China’s Zhipu.ai, and G42 of the UAE, vowed to ensure safety of their most cutting edge AI models with promises of accountable governance and public transparency.

The pledge includes publishing safety frameworks setting out how they will measure risks of these models.


Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is a “model” for sustainable practices in the aviation section, said president of the International Civil Aviation Organization Council.

In an interview with Arab News during the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh, Salvatore Sciacchitano emphasized the Kingdom’s position as an emerging leader in sustainable aviation. 

Speaking about the global agenda to reduce carbon emissions, Sciacchitano said: “Saudi Arabia is in this sense a model because their plan of development is in the perspective of sustainability. This is very positive.” 

“They have projects for low-carbon emission fuels. That means fossil fuels but to produce reduced emissions thanks to green energy that is used for the production. So this is a good direction,” he added.  

The ICAO official highlighted the importance of adhering to international standards and practices, saying that Saudi Arabia’s aviation growth aligns with global standards.  

He stated: “The regulations are there, we call SARPs, standards and recommended practices, these are applicable all over the world to all 193 (member) states of ICAO.” 

Highlighting the role of the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, Sciacchitano praised the support of the authority to the Regional Safety Oversight Organization, which is a way to put resources together at the regional level. 

“Let me say that the GACA is well advanced in terms of programs, projects, training, and also providing support at (the) regional level,” he said. 

“In this sense, Saudi Arabia is well prepared, not just to support its own development, but also to support the development of the region,” he added. 

Sciacchitano said ICAO is there to support its member states. Although he believes that the Kingdom is fully capable of achieving its goals independently. “We absolutely support them with our expertise,” he added. 

Sciacchitano predicted a significant increase in global air traffic, with the number of passengers expected to reach 11.5 billion by 2050, up from the current 4.6 billion.  

He emphasized the need for technological advancements to accommodate this growth, stating that technologies will allow the world to accommodate more airplanes in the air and more space on the ground. 


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd.,  known as GO Petroleum, for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.

Aramco Trading Co. Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.

Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.

“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.

“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”

The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.

“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.

“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”

Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.

Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.

The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.

In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.

Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.


Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to unveil a new tourism strategy this year utilizing artificial intelligence and seamless technology, according to a top official.

Speaking to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum 2024, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, noted that the plan seeks to maximize the Kingdom’s assets including culture, history, heritage and hospitality.

“Right now, the ministry, under the leadership of his excellency, is developing the new strategy, and that new strategy is going to include several new things, such as the use of AI, for instance, seamless and many other technologies that are important for growth,” Manzo said.

She added: “(The) strategy, hopefully is going to be released this year and is going to be shared with the world. The strategy that we have right now was developed in 2019. We accomplished the milestone of the 100 million tourists, domestic and international, seven years ahead (of schedule).”

Manzo also discussed the importance of sustainability so people are still “enjoying” the world today while ensuring resources are preserved for future use

This concept involves multiple facets, including economic, environmental, and social considerations.

“For 30 years, we have been measuring and that’s why we know that 10 percent of the global gross domestic product before the pandemic (came from travel and tourism), and we’re going to reach that number this year again,” Manzo said.

She added that before the COVID-19 outbreak there were 330 million jobs in the industry, adding: “This year, we’re hoping to break a record with 348 million. One out of 10 jobs depends on this sector, so the economic aspect is very clear. The social aspect also is quite interesting — 54 percent women, 30 percent youth.”

Manzo emphasized the positive social impacts of travel and tourism, such as poverty reduction and the prevention of illegal migration by providing local job opportunities.

Despite these benefits, there had been a lack of clear measurement regarding the sustainability of this industry.

However, a significant study sponsored by Saudi Arabia, particularly by Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb and the ministry, addressed this gap.

Released last year, this provided comprehensive insights into the environmental impact of travel and tourism, revealing that 8.1 percent of greenhouse emissions are attributable to this sector.

“Now that we know that, then we can go industry by industry to understand what is the impact, and from that 8 percent, 47 percent is due to transportation and it could be aviation, it can be road, it can be cruising all the different aspects,” she said.

Manzo added: “Now, the reality is that aviation counts between 1.5 and 2 percent of the global emissions. But as I said in the panel, we cannot see this in an isolated approach. We need to see this from a holistic point of view. We need to understand what are the quick wins.”

Therefore, she noted that this does not mean stopping flying is the solution, as it has “very severe consequences.”

She said: “Millions of people can lose their jobs. We saw that during the pandemic, travel provides food on the table to millions of people from around the world. That’s a factor that we have to consider.” 

Mazo stated that the right approach should be finding ways to travel in a more sustainable way, as she referred to a statement by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman ,when he said that the Kingdom is leading this transition.

Furthermore, the adviser stressed the importance of the Future Aviation Forum as it reflects the significance of connectivity within and outside the Kingdom as emphasized by Al-Khateeb on the first day.

“We need to increase the connectivity within the Kingdom, to the Kingdom and of course outside in order to increase the trade and do business and have more exports, more imports, and all of the above,” she stated.

Manzo continued: “In that regard it is very important to continue with the partnerships, not only at the destination level, but also at the corporate level and with the different entities, with the government. Without transport, we don’t have tourism, and tourism is very important for transport also to grow.”

 

 

 


Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has completed its riyal-denominated sukuk issuance for May at SR3.23 billion ($860 million), according to the National Debt Management Center. 

In April, Saudi Arabia issued sukuk amounting to SR7.39 billion, while it was SR4.44 billion and SR7.87 billion in March and February respectively. 

NDMC revealed that the Shariah-compliant debt product for May was divided into two tranches.

The first tranche valued at SR71 million is set to mature in 2029, while the second one amounting to SR3.16 billion is due in 2036. 

In March 2024, NDMC concluded its second government sukuk savings round, with a total volume of requests reaching SR959 million, allocated to 37,000 applicants.

NDMC, at that time, said that the financial product, also known as Sah, offers a return of 5.64 percent, with a maturity date in March 2025. 

In April, a report released by S&P Global said that sukuk issuance globally is expected to hover between the $160 billion to $170 billion mark in 2024, representing a steady momentum from $168.4 billion in 2023 and $179.4 billion in 2022. 

According to the US-based firm, the issuance of this Shariah-compliant debt product began on a strong footing in 2024, with Saudi Arabia becoming a key contributor to the performance. 

The credit rating agency also noted that the sukuk market will continue to grow in the near term driven by financing needs in core Islamic finance countries, along with the ongoing economic transformation programs which are currently underway in nations like Saudi Arabia. 

“The market has started 2024 on a strong footing, with total issuance reaching $46.8 billion at March 31, 2024, compared with $38.2 billion at March 31, 2023. Saudi Arabia was a key contributor to this performance,” said S&P Global. 

It added: “The drop in issuance volumes in 2023, which mainly resulted from tighter liquidity conditions in Saudi Arabia’s banking system and Indonesia’s lower fiscal deficit, was somewhat compensated by an increase in foreign currency-denominated sukuk issuance.” 

In April, another report released by Fitch Ratings also echoed similar views and noted that global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the coming months of this year. 

Fitch noted that economic diversification efforts and the rapid development of the debt capital market in the Gulf Cooperation Council region will propel the growth of the sukuk market in the coming months.