India has insisted that the proposed agreement to cap harmful fishery subsidies being negotiated at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should preserve sovereignty of member countries. This should be done by ensuring that determinations of national authorities prevail over those of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and international organisations, it has said.

“In the meeting on fishery subsidies at the WTO last week, India said there should be suitable language in the agreement to preserve sovereignty and it plans to submit a text on this issue soon,” a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine .

WTO members are hoping to conclude negotiations for checking fishery subsidies given by its members in order to prevent over-fishing and curbing illegal and unregulated fishing with the overall objective of preserve marine and coastal eco-systems. As per a decision taken at the last Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Argentina in December 2017, members will try to implement an agreement on fishery subsidies by the next Ministerial meeting which is now scheduled in June 2020 in Kazakhstan.

RFMO measures

A number of RFMOs have been set up by fishing nations under the UN Convention on Law of the Seas 1982 to provide a forum through which countries will cooperate to achieve and enforce conservation objectives, both on the high seas and in areas under national jurisdiction. Their responsibilities include assessing the status of fish stocks of commercial value within their area of jurisdiction, setting limits on catch quantities and the number of vessels allowed to fish and putting in place indirect regulations which also apply to gears that can be used.

“A number of WTO members are trying to bring in a number of RFMO measures into the fisheries agreement and make them binding on all WTO countries irrespective of whether they are part of RFMOs or not. India will not accept this. India believes that RFMO or any other international organisation should not have any role in WTO matters and countries should be allowed to maintain their sovereignty in determining their stocks and other related matters,” another official close to the negotiations said.

New Delhi is now working on a submission detailing its proposal on preservation of sovereignty for members in implementing the provisions of the fisheries subsidies negotiations once it is finalised. In the on-going negotiations, India has also been pressing for special & differential treatment for developing countries to allow it to continue small subsidy programmes for artisanal fishers which is very important for their survival.

The US and Australia, however, want to place subsidy caps on all countries with large fish stocks, like India and China, irrespective of their development status.