The United States on Wednesday formally called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to urge member states to address forced labor on fishing boats.
The US proposal, which comes amid signs that two decades of WTO talks towards banning subsidies that contribute to over-fishing may be reaching a conclusion, calls on governments to recognize forced labor in the seafood industry and improve transparency.
"Forced labor harms the lives and well-being of fishers and workers around the world and it must be eliminated," US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said in a statement.
"We will continue to work closely with our partners and allies to promote a fair international trading system that addresses the sustainability of fisheries resources, and benefits workers and citizens around the world."
Unpaid labor "gives fishing vessels who engage in the practice an unfair cost advantage," while making overfishing worse, the USTR said, linking it to subsidies paid to fishing boats.
There is broad agreement that action is needed to rein in over-fishing, which is stripping the seas of a hugely important resource that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods.
After missing the last deadline to reach an agreement in December 2020, negotiations at the trade body have accelerated in recent months.
New WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who took the reins of the global trade body in March, has made clinching the long-awaited fisheries deal one of her top priorities, and has called for a breakthrough by July.