Agri Business

India’s proposal on subsidies for poor fishermen awaits WTO response

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on April 15, 2020 Published on April 15, 2020

Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries, LDCs to be drafted

With disruptions due to Covid-19 outbreak making meetings difficult, written submissions on India’s proposal for protecting subsidies for artisanal fishers in poorer countries are being submitted by the the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members. All timelines have also been extended. This will be done at the on-going negotiations of the WTO.

The inputs would go into framing provisions for special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing nations, which is to be part of the revised version of the draft text of the agreement on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies, an official told BusinessLine.

“It was disappointing for developing countries when the draft text on overfishing and overcapacity circulated by the fisheries negotiations chair on March 9 put on hold provisions on special and differential treatment (S&DT). But it seems the next draft will include it as WTO members have time till almost the end of this month to comment on India’s and least-developed countries’ (LDCs) proposals,” a government official told BusinessLine.

The extended timeline was required as many members, with limited resources, needed time to react in the midst of the Covid-19 chaos, the official added.

Timelines relaxed

While India supports the overall proposal to curb harmful fisheries subsidies totalling more than $14.5 billion globally every year, it wants exemptions for developing countries and LDCs so that government programmes to support artisanal fishers can continue.

India’s proposal has the support of a large number of developing countries and LDCs, including Africa, but the US, Australia and Brazil have opposed it. They want subsidy caps on countries with large fish stocks such as India and China, irrespective of their development status.

As the draft text of March 9 did not include provisions on S&DT and was objected to by developing countries, the chair of the negotiating group organised a virtual consultation on March 20 to discuss proposals by India and LDC Group on S&DT for both IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing and overfishing and overcapacity. But it had to be cancelled as many developing countries could not join due to technical and infrastructural constraints.

The chair then invited responses through e-mail by March 26, and after several fishers’ and farmers’ groups pointed out that it was very difficult for countries with limited resources to react to proposals with a pandemic on, timelines were further relaxed.

“It is important for developing countries and LDCs to understand the details of the agreement being drafted as all exceptions need to be factored in to ensure that they do not face any challenges in supporting poor fishers after the pact is in place,” the official said. WTO members were aiming to finalise the agreement on fisheries subsidies by June 2020 at the Ministerial Conference scheduled in Kazakhstan, but due to disruptions caused by Covid-19, the goal post will have to be shifted.

Published on April 15, 2020

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