Ecuador has floated a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the need to define what qualifies as ‘artisanal fishing’ that should be exempted from prohibition of subsidies related to overfishing.

The proposal directly takes on India’s suggestion, based on which the current negotiations on carve-outs are taking place, that all fishers in developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) fishing within territorial waters, defined as 12 nautical miles from the shore, should be eligible for the exemption.

“At a recent meeting of the WTO’s negotiating group on rules (fisheries subsidies), some members backed Ecuador’s proposal on the need to have some basic parameters for fishers to qualify as artisanal and hence be allowed to continue with the subsidy programmes. But there were others who wanted to stick to the approach that was in the consolidated text based on the proposal made by India,” a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine .

The WTO is attempting to reach an agreement on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies, estimated at $1420.5 billion annually, at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the WTO scheduled this year. The subsidies that are being targeted include sops for fishing vessels, nets, fuel and other inputs offered to poor fishers in India.

Blanket relief to fishers

India’s proposal of exempting artisanal fishers from the subsidy prohibition by providing a blanket relief for fishing in territorial waters (within 12 nautical miles from their own shore) has been included in the draft text by the chair of the negotiations based on which further negotiations are now taking place.

At the recent meeting, India opposed Ecuador’s proposal, which would apply to fishers in developed countries as well, and pointed out that its own proposal very well took care of the need to ensure that only small fishers were exempted.

“India’s argument is that since it is mostly the small fishers that operate close to the shore and don’t venture out of territorial water, defining all fishers that fished within the area as artisanal was a more pragmatic way of extending the exemption from subsidy prohibition rather than examining the profile of individual fishers,” the official said.

Prohibition pillars

The exception is spelled out in each of three subsidy prohibition pillars (IUU, overfished and overfishing and overcapacity).

The chair of the group said that he would consider statements made by all members and then plan how to move ahead.