To protect its right to give subsidies to small and artisanal fishers in the country, India has submitted a new proposal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), suggesting that developing countries and the least developed countries (LDCs) should be exempted from prohibitions for granting certain fisheries subsidies if the fishing occurs within waters under a country's own authority.

“India also said that as a low subsidiser, it would also like to have room to increase its support programmes for fishing in the future,” a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine .

Also read:India insists on flexibilities in negotiations on fisheries subsidies

The proposal has been made as part of on-going negotiations at the WTO on curbing fisheries subsidies.

Negotiations on subsidies

At the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, members agreed to work towards adopting an agreement on disciplines that prohibit subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by the next the Ministerial Conference in 2020.

“India also proposed, for certain cases, transition periods for developing countries and LDCs before certain subsidy prohibitions kick in. It suggested that developed country members and developing country members, in a position to do so, shall provide assistance to members to implement the agreement,” the official said.

In the negotiations, a number of developed country members, such as the US and Australia, are trying to do away with special and differential treatment for developing countries, in terms of lower reduction commitments.

Also read:WTO: India, China call for flexibility in proposed pact on fisheries subsidies

As per a proposal by the US, Australia and Philippines, rather than classifying subsidies as positively or negatively affecting fish stocks, the members should negotiate caps on their total fisheries subsidies with the top 25 players taking on, in addition, commitments to reduce their subsidies over time.

“The proposal by the US and Australia totally disregards the S&DT element for developing countries and LDCs by linking curbs only to the total amount of subsidies provided. India has firmly put S&DT back on the table through its new proposal,” a government official said.

India provides subsidies to its fishers for fuel, nets, boats and other infrastructure, without which it would not be feasible for them to stay in the occupation.

As per estimates, subsidies worth $14 billion-$20.5 billion are extended to the fisheries sector annually, leading to over-capacity and over-fishing.