To ensure that relief and safety programmes for the fishing community, especially during times of disaster, do not get challenged at the World Trade Organization, India has insisted that government measures such as disaster relief, hygiene protection and safety related provisions should be excluded from the purview of the disciplines on fisheries subsidies being currently negotiated.

At a recent meeting of the negotiating group on fisheries subsidies, New Delhi, together with representatives from Venezuela, Benin (for the African Group), Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, Pakistan, and Nigeria stressed that effective special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions were an integral part of any future agreement, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine . Countries such as the US and Australia, however, disagreed.

WTO members are trying to finalise an agreement on curbing fisheries subsidies that lead to over-fishing and destruction of marine life so that it is ready to be signed by the next Ministerial meeting in June 2020. But there are several areas of disagreement between developed and developing countries especially on extension of the S&DT provisions (flexibilities which entitle developing countries to less onerous reduction commitments compared to rich countries) and the exclusions.

Support from others

“India’s insistence on exclusion of government measures from subsidy cut requirements was also supported by South Africa and Nigeria. Benin, for the African Group, and Morocco said good subsidies should not be prohibited and that their elimination would have an impact on their effective fisheries management. Sri Lanka, too, agreed with this,” the official said.

The Indian coastline is extremely vulnerable to cyclones and often the fishing community, especially the artisanal fishers, face massive losses due to destruction caused by it. The government has to step in with various programmes and measures from time to time not only to help the fishermen deal with the losses due to natural disasters but also to ensure better safety in the future.

The US, however, said members should avoid creating huge exclusions while the Philippines said it wanted WTO members to send a clear-cut message on eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies and not that they were crafting exemptions for certain types of subsidies.

Sharp differences

On the issue of S&DT provisions, too, sharp divergences exist between members. Countries such as the US, Brazil and Australia want flexibilities to be linked to production volumes and not development status of members. Many other developing countries, including India, however, insist that not providing S&DT to all developing countries and LDCs was unacceptable. The new chair of the negotiating group declared that the next cluster of fisheries subsidies meetings will be held in the week starting December 4. For 2020, the chair proposed that members restart work in mid-January and have regular meetings up until mid-May, at which point the discussions would be brought into the preparations for the Ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan scheduled in June.

Fisheries subsidies are estimated to range from $14 billion to $20.5 billion annually. While India accounts for about 6 per cent of the world’s fish, it wants to continue all its existing subsidy programmes for the fishing community as it argues that its subsidy per fisher is very low and essential to protect livelihoods.