Agri Business

WTO and fisheries subsidies: India’s proposal for exempting poor countries gains traction

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on September 18, 2020

Some members, however, say the proposed criteria would exempt too many countries from making subsidy cuts

India’s proposal of exempting developing countries with national incomes below a specific threshold level from fishery subsidy cuts at the World Trade Organisation was discussed in details at the on-going negotiations in Geneva with many countries coming out in support while some others opposing it.

“A number of developing countries and coastal economies that supported India’s proposal pointed out that poorer countries needed to continue supporting their artisanal fishers. Some even said that additional subsidies may have to be given as the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted livelihoods of small fishers,” a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine.

WTO members are trying to reach an agreement, over the next few months, on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually that results in over-fishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide.

China vs other nations

There is, however, a lot of indecision over exempting developing countries and LDCs from subsidy cuts due to the presence of some large developing countries, especially China, which accounts for the highest catch globally. China is also the largest fisheries subsidising country in the world, providing an estimated annual subsidy of $7.2 billion (compared to total global fisheries subsidies estimated at $35.4 billion).

“To ensure that the China factor does not result in other nations being deprived of the special & differential treatment offered by the WTO to developing countries and LDCs, India came up with its revised proposal earlier this year specifying the category of developing countries that would not be eligible for exemptions,” a Delhi-based trade expert explained.

India’s stand

According to India’s proposal, a developing country is not eligible for the exemption if its GNI per capita crosses $5,000 for three consecutive years, has above 2 per cent share in global marine capture, and the share of agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors is less than 10 per cent of its GDP. “The criteria mentioned by India leads to a sure exclusion of China,” the expert said.

In this week’s negotiations at the WTO, some members, however, pointed out that India’s proposal will lead to most developing countries being eligible for exemption from subsidy cuts, according to the trade official in Geneva. This situation is to be avoided as it could go against the objective of protecting marine life, they said.

So far, the US and Australia have been among nations that are opposed to S&DT for developing countries engaged in substantial fishing activities.

At the meeting, some countries also proposed that developing countries could be given a transition period after which they would be required to get rid of their fisheries subsidies.

“For India it is very important that it is allowed to maintain its fisheries subsidies as curtailing the programmes for subsidising fuel, nets and boats for the country’s poor fishers could be a blow for their livelihood,” the expert said.

Published on September 18, 2020

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