India’s proposal of exempting low-income fishers from developing countries operating in territorial waters from a subsidy ban is gaining weight with several WTO members supporting its inclusion in the draft agreement floated by the chair of the negotiating committee.

“What is, however, worrying for India is the indication that the exemption may come with a timeline and may be withdrawn after the initial years,” an official source told BusinessLine.

As per the draft text on curbing fisheries subsidies circulated by the chair of the negotiations Santiago Will, the prohibition on fisheries subsidies shall not apply to subsidies granted or maintained by developing country members, including least-developed countries, for low income, resource-poor or livelihood fishing or fishing related activities within 12 nautical miles measured from the baselines for a period of about 2 years from the date of entry into force of this instrument.

Also read: Govt looks to limit RoDTEP spends

“The text is full of brackets including a bracket on the suggested two years of exemption meaning that these are to be negotiated. However, it will be difficult for India to accept any timeline to the exemption as resource-poor farmers will need support for a long time to come,” the source said.

The on-going negotiations around a draft text is important as an agreement on curbing fisheries subsidies is being projected as one of the key achievable at the next WTO Ministerial meeting scheduled in Geneva on November 30 this year. The prohibition targets subsidies in all categories such as fuel subsidy and subsidies for nets, fishing boats and other equipment.

An agreement on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies could lead to elimination of an estimated $14-20.5 billion of subsidies annually that lead to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide, but many countries like India have sought exemption for artisanal fishers who fish in territorial waters.

Also read: WTO fisheries talks: Special treatment for developing nations can’t be substituted by sops for all, says India

Although the chair has prepared a draft text based on which an agreement could be finalised, there is still a long way to go before differences are narrowed on important issues including special & differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries in the IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) pillar.

At the negotiating group meeting on Thursday, there were some members who were continuing to oppose an exemption from subsidy cuts for developing nations on the ground that IUU fishing was harmful and illegal and could not be tolerated at all.

“There will be more meetings on special & differential treatment for developing countries over the next few days to narrow existing differences,” a trade official based in Geneva said.