World Trade Organisation member countries will meet again this week in Geneva to take forward the discussions on curbing fisheries subsidies that has divided participants over its scope, coverage and exemptions and rendered the Negotiating Group on Rules headless for the past month.

“Some like India and China are insisting on flexibilities for all developing countries while others like the US and Australia have proposed that exemptions be granted only on the basis of low fish production volumes. India has to stay alert and staunchly defend the subsidies for its small and artisanal fishers given the fact that it has one of the largest volumes of fish stocks in the world,” an official familiar with the negotiations told BusinessLine .

The meeting of the negotiating group on fisheries subsidies is scheduled on October 10.

The difference between members over the mechanism to cap subsidies is so deep that they have not yet been able to decide on the next chair for the Negotiating Group on Rules where discussions on curbing fisheries subsidies are carried out.

The post has been vacant since September after the last chair, Mexico’s WTO ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas, remitted office.

Since then all the proposed candidates have been opposed by some member or the other. “There is a mistrust amongst members and a growing concern that a chair from a particular country which tows a certain line in the on-going negotiations may favour that line despite his/her supposedly neutral stance. However, members must take a decision fast as the year-end deadline for concluding the negotiations is approaching fast,” the official said.

Deadline looming

In the last WTO Ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in December 2017, it was decided that members will try to conclude the negotiations on curbing fisheries subsidies subsidies, estimated to range from $14 billion to $20.5 billion annually, by December 2019. It is feared that fisheries subsidies lead to over-fishing, which puts pressure on the global fish stock. India’s negotiating team is adamant on its stand that it has to protect both its present as well as future subsidies which it gives to its small fishers for buying boats, gear, fuel and other inputs. New Delhi wants carve-outs as part of special and differential treatment for developing countries that the WTO provides for.

Some others such as Australia, the US and Brazil have categorised members into three tiers based on fish production volumes. They have proposed that exemption from subsidy caps be given to only members that fall into Tier 3 and account for less than 0.05 per cent of global marine capture.

India definitely won’t qualify for the exemptions under this set up as it has about 6 per cent of the world’s fish.