Fishers bodies call for halt to WTO talks amid pandemic

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on April 02, 2020 Published on April 02, 2020

Complain that in the absence of face-to-face negotiations, texts are being tabled at the Chair’s discretion

Fisher and farmer organisations from India and other developing countries have called for an immediate halt to the fisheries subsidies negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, which they say are continuing in a “non-inclusive and ad-hoc manner” amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Since many developing countries could not participate in the ongoing discussions because of domestic disruptions, a very defective process —giving undue influence to the Chair — is being followed, tabling very ‘biased texts’, the groups pointed out in a representation to WTO DG Roberto Azevedo on Wednesday.

“Since Geneva is under a lockdown, face-to-face negotiations are on hold. Meanwhile, the Chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, is tabling texts at his own discretion, and the lack of adequate consultations is introducing undue bias in the text written by the Chair with the support of the WTO Secretariat, which remains under the heavy influence of some advanced countries,” the representation stated.

The letter has been endorsed by more than 150 groups from countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Uruguay, Nepal, Samoa and Fiji.

‘Harmful’ subsidies

WTO members had sought to wrap up fisheries negotiations aimed at curbing the ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies, estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually, at the ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan in June 2020. Although now the meet is unlikely to be held as scheduled because of the pandemic, attempts are still being made to conclude the talks.

The fisher and farmer bodies pointed out that the draft text tabled by the Chair on March 9, on overfishing and overcapacity, placed the Special and Differential Treatment (SDT), a key demand from India and a number of other developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs), under a placeholder.

Following strong objections from several developing countries, the Chair organised a virtual conference on March 20, which had to be cancelled as several developing countries were not able to participate, the representation added.

The Chair then called for written submissions through e-mails, which, too, was difficult for many countries. However, based on these, a new text is to be drafted.

“Negotiations of multilateral negotiations on an important issue such as fisheries subsidies, which is a critical livelihood issue for millions, especially in developing countries, cannot be conducted in this manner,” the representation stated, adding that the right thing to do amid the pandemic is to put the talks on hold.

Published on April 02, 2020

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