India’s WTO fisheries proposals may be the basis of offering carve-outs to poor countries

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on July 12, 2020 Published on July 12, 2020

WTO members had sought to wrap up negotiations aimed at curbing ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies at the ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan in June 2020 SS KUMAR

New Delhi to give a ‘studied’ response to Chair’s draft as members look at concluding pact by December-end

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies is finally taking into account some of the exceptions being pushed by India for protecting artisanal fishers in developing countries. But, officials say New Delhi has to examine the details of the pact as it emerges before formulating its views.

The draft text recently circulated by the chair of the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, includes carve-outs based on India’s earlier proposals on special and differential treatment (S&DT) exempting developing and least-developed countries (LDCs) from subsidy prohibitions, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

“The WTO will consolidate views of member countries on the latest draft text on fisheries subsidies circulated by the chair on June 25 and full-fledged negotiations are likely to begin in September with the objective of finalising the pact by the end of December 2020,” the official said. India will have to study the draft text and its implications as well the response of other members to its proposals on S&DT thoroughly, before planning further interventions, he added.

As the fisheries subsidies pact, seeking to end ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually, targets sops for fishing vessels, nets, fuel and other inputs offered to poor fishers in India, New Delhi wants exemptions for poorer countries.

China out

With India now distancing itself from China, which is the main target country for members such as the US and Australia who have been opposing S&DT for developing countries engaging in substantial fishing activities, officials believe that its proposals may be more acceptable to unwilling countries now.

In its revised proposal submitted in February 2020, New Delhi suggested that large-scale industrial fishing vessels and larger developing countries meeting criteria such as per capita gross national income of over $5,000 for three consecutive years may not be exempted from the prohibition.

Such countries should also have a more than 2 per cent share in global marine capture and a less than 10 per cent contribution of agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors in its GDP and should also be engaging in distant water fishing.

China — the largest fisheries subsidising country in the world — provides an estimated annual subsidy of $7 billion and accounts for the highest catch, while India’s subsides are less than $300 million. “China’s GNI is much higher than $5,000 and it also gets disqualified for S&DT based on the other parameters,” the official said.

The draft consolidated text circulated by the Chair of the negotiations committee, focuses on the three key prohibitions of subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — subsidies that exploit overfished stocks; and subsidies which help create excessive fishing capacity. The chair explained that India’s earlier proposals on S&DT exempting developing and LDCs from subsidy prohibitions were used as the basis for carve-outs in the three pillars as it also broadly represented views put forward by the LDC and ACP groups.

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Published on July 12, 2020
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