WTO DG sets July target for pact, India insists on special treatment

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on April 14, 2021

Week-long meeting on fisheries subsidies at WTO aimed at narrowing gaps between members

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has set an ambitious target of July 2021 for member countries to reach an agreement on pruning harmful fisheries subsidies. However, India and some other member countries insist that untangling of special and differential treatment for developing nations has to be a priority.

“There is a cluster of meetings on-going at the WTO negotiating group on rules where members are trying to narrow gaps in various areas of the fisheries negotiations. India is keen for the talks to progress but has indicated that it will not compromise on the subsidy needs of its small and artisanal farmers,” an official tracking the meetings told BusinessLine.

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The talks have reached a considerable degree of maturity, and members should make the compromises necessary to get to the finish line, the WTO DG said in her remarks to open the cluster of week-long meetings.

“Please keep the date of July in mind as when we need to finally close these negotiations,”" she added.

While India appreciates the need to conclude the fisheries talks early, it has to get substantial concessions for its fishers under the special & differential treatment package before it agrees to any pact, the official said.

India and some others have sought exemption from subsidy cuts for artisanal fishers in developing countries who fish in territorial waters. This would mean that while developed countries would need to do away with subsidies for buying boats, fuels, fishing gear, etc, India can continue such subsidy programmes as long as its fishers stay within territorial waters. Several developed countries are against extending such broad exemptions.

Okonjo-Iweala asked all members, and in particular all Heads of Delegation, to prioritise the fisheries subsidies negotiations over the coming months, and to remain flexible and available as and when needed.

An agreement on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies could lead to elimination of an estimated $14 billion-$20.5 billion of subsidies annually that lead to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide.

Published on April 14, 2021

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