India to protect subsidies for small fishers

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on July 15, 2021

Ministers from member countries to work towards closing gaps in ongoing deals

India will focus on protecting the subsidies given to its small and artisanal fishing community at the WTO ministerial meeting on Thursday, where members will attempt to push the ongoing negotiations towards conclusion.

“New Delhi will insist on exclusion of all subsidies offered to its small and artisanal fishers, without a time-limit, as such fishers need to be supported for a long time to come,” a source tracking the matter told BusinessLine.

The ministerial level meeting, likely to be attended by Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, will be held in virtual mode, with each minister provided an allotted time to make an intervention.

The meeting is aimed at narrowing gaps in the ongoing negotiations for elimination of harmful subsidies, estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually, leading to overcapacity and overfishing, so that an agreement could be reached at the full-scale WTO Ministerial meet scheduled in November 2021 in Geneva.

“There are elements in the revised draft agreement floated by the Chair of the negotiating group, which are of concern to many developing countries such as India, where fishing provides livelihood support to a large community of fishers. One of them is the proposed timeline for elimination of some of the subsidies,” said the source.

Fish production

India is the second-largest aquaculture producer in the world and accounts for more than 6 per cent of global fish production. The sector provides livelihood to about 25 million fishers and fish farmers at the primary level and twice the number along the value chain, according to the National Fisheries Development Board.

Per the negotiating group chair’s draft, the subsidies that contribute to over-capacity and over-fishing need to be curbed, including those for construction and modernisation of vessels, purchase of machines and equipment, and for covering costs of fuel, ice or bait.

“The Indian government provides subsidies for purchase of several items such as fishing boats, nets, other gear and fuel. Any form of binding curbs could not only jeopardise ongoing support schemes, but also future ones. Negotiators need to be careful about what they give their consent to,” said the source.

Strong opposition

A number of civil society organisations, too, have strongly opposed the revised draft and sought more flexibility for developing countries.

“How can subsidies for small-scale fishers or what the WTO calls low-income, resource-poor fishers doing livelihood fishing in developing countries be time-bound? We do not stop being low-income and resource-poor within a span of 2 or 5 years. On the other hand, the large, subsidising nations are extracting permanent concessions for themselves, ” said Naseegh Jaffer, speaking on behalf of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP).

Published on July 14, 2021

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