India and China have agreed to support the proposed fast-tracking of negotiations on limiting harmful fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO) but have cautioned that the special sensitivities of developing countries can’t be side-stepped.

“Any outcome should be equitable and take into account the sensitivities of developing countries,” India’s representative said at the meeting of the fisheries committee on Monday at the WTO headquarters in Geneva.

New Delhi has been fighting for protecting subsidies given to its artisanal fishing community and has maintained that an agreement on limiting subsidies should exclude small fishers. An agreement on disciplines that prohibit subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the pacts that members hope to finalise by the next Ministerial round of the WTO in Kazakhstan early 2020. This was one of the key decisions of the WTO’s Buenos Aires Ministerial meet in December 2017 where some organisations blamed India for blocking a deal in the area.

According to the schedule for the next few months charted by the chair of the Negotiating Group, Ambassador Roberto Zapata Barradas, brainstorming for solutions in “incubator groups” and negotiations over the text of the fisheries subsidies agreement will be held along with bilateral meetings, technical sessions for sharing information, and the continued streamlining of negotiating documents.

While China lent its support to the ‘incubator groups’ and intensified talks, it pointed out that members should not underestimate the difficulties ahead, especially on the demands of the developing countries.

India wants flexibility in the form of special and differential treatment in the implementation of commitments as its subsidies to small fishers in the form of support for motorisation of fishing boats, fuel rebates and infrastructure support, all fall under the targeted subsidies list at the WTO.

“India is not in a position to discontinue fisheries subsidies that are targeted at protecting the livelihood of its fishing community. It would need to be given flexibilities in case a pact is reached at the WTO so that such subsidies could continue,” an official told BusinessLine .

New Delhi will reiterate its views strongly in the meetings that are to take place over the next four months at the WTO, the official added. The incubator groups, comprising several WTO members, are meeting between September 18 and 21. This will be followed by a cluster of meetings from September 24 to 28 of the Negotiating Group on Rules, comprising the entire WTO membership, which will consider ideas from the earlier small group gatherings.