Agri Business

Delhi fights to protect current, future subsidies as WTO fisheries talks near conclusion

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on September 11, 2019

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Differences between members over flexibilities prove to be stumbling block

India is continuing its fight to protect the present as well as future subsidies for its small and artisanal fishers in the form of boat, gear, fuel and other input subsidies as World Trade Organisation (WTO) members are meeting in Geneva this week to try and give a final shape to the agreement to prune sops which lead to over-fishing.

The US, however, is adamant about ending special snd differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and whatever flexibilities India gets may have to be in the form of carve-outs, an official told BusinessLine.

“India has already pointed out that the existing mandate on fisheries state that there should be appropriate and effective special & differential treatment for developing countries. These should not be replaced or derailed by new proposals with inbuilt flexibilities for all,” the official said.

A decision taken at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires was to try and conclude the negotiations on bringing down fisheries subsides by the end of 2019 or by the next MC which is now scheduled in June 2020.

Fast-track mode

While WTO members are now trying to fast-track the fisheries negotiations so that a conclusion can be reached by the year-end, flexibilities for members, both developed and developing, are proving to be the biggest hurdle.

In an earlier meeting India pointed out that any solution which rewards members, who are major subsidisers and are largely responsible for the current state of affairs, would be unacceptable.

Any approach for disciplining harmful subsidies should measure up on this criterion and take into account the development status of members, it added.

“The attempts by members this week at the WTO will be to try and narrow down differences on the subsidies to be pruned and the flexibilities to be offered,” the official said.

There will be three meetings on fisheries subsidies at the WTO — on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

US objections

The US has argued that 14 of the top 25 marine catch producers in the world were developing countries and one least-developed country. Therefore, flexibilities should not be linked to the development status of a country but the subsidies given.

As per India’s calculations, its subsidies per fisherman amounted to less than $0.10 per day and it reasoned that such small sops need not be disciplined.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 33 per cent of the world’s fish populations are overfished, 60 per cent are being fished to their sustainable limit, and there is a margin for growth in catches of only 7 per cent of the entire world’s fish populations.

Published on September 11, 2019

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