Small-scale fishermen groups have asked the government not to take on any commitments to curb fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires in December as they fear that the ongoing negotiations were going against their interests and things couldn’t swing back in India’s favour in two months’ time.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), in a separate letter to Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, too, has warned that a pact on fisheries should be avoided at Buenos Aires as the special and differential treatment (S&DT) which India’s artisanal fisher communities need, was not prominently visible in the negotiations so far.

Prabhu is in Marrakesh this week to attend an informal meeting of WTO trade ministers to work on the agenda for the Ministerial in Buenos Aires in December.

Plea to Minister

“Given the current status of the talks and the complexity of the issue, we urge you not to make any commitments on fisheries subsidies and give away major policy tools to boost small-scale, sustainable and employment generating fisheries sector without conducting adequate research on the impact of any commitments in the WTO, consultations with the fisher community in India and without consultation with state governments and parliamentarians,” said Pradip Chatterjee, Convener, National Platform for Small scale Fisheries (Inland), in a recent letter to Prabhu.

The National Platform for Small Scale Fisheries (Inland) was set up last year by more than 15 fisheries-related organisations from 10 States to jointly fight for the rights of 20 million strong small-scale fishing communities working on inland fisheries in India. The States include West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

The letter further stated that it was alarming that while the developed countries were refusing to grant effective special and differential treatment to developing countries, the current proposals allowed them to retain most of their subsidies.

“The government has had not a single meeting with us on the issue which concerns our livelihoods. We hope to meet the Minister once he is back from Marrakesh,” Chatterjee told BusinessLine .

The RSS-affiliated SJM, in its communication to the Commerce Minister, said that while it supported sustainable fishing and believed that big industrial fishing needed to be discouraged, it was worried that the current proposals being discussed would actually allow developed countries to continue with their subsidies while banning subsidies that are for small-scale informal fishing in developing countries.

“The S&DT which our fisher-folk urgently need is not at all visible or actionable in the current proposals. Given the limited time available, it is better to reject bad outcomes than to try to improve them without doing thorough research on the implications. Such discussions can be taken up later,” the letter from Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-convenor, SJM stated. Disciplining fisheries subsidies to curb over-fishing is one of the deliverables that many developed countries are aiming for at the Buenos Aires meet.

New Delhi, in a recent oral intervention at a WTO meet on fisheries subsidies, suggested that when a fish stock is found to be overfished, developing countries must be given some flexibility in terms of the number of years to withdraw related subsidies and that this rule should only cover areas beyond territorial waters.