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

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on March 24, 2021

Argues that Argentina, Chile, Ecuador proposal can only be complementary

India has objected to a proposal made by Argentina, Chile and Ecuador at the World Trade Organization for extending exemptions similar to the subsidy prohibition, to low-income fishers from all member countries, whether developed or developing. India and has stressed that it can’t be a substitute for the special and differential treatment entitlement of developing nations, a Geneva-based official has said.

The three South American countries put forward a proposal at a recent meeting of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules (Fisheries Subsidies) where they suggested that low-income fishers from all member-countries that operate within 12 nautical miles of the coastline should be exempted from subsidy prohibition.

“The logic behind the proposal was that such a provision would allow all countries to offer assistance to their poor fishing communities through various schemes that may otherwise be prohibited under the fisheries subsidies ban that is being worked out by members to put a check on unregulated fishing,” the official said.

Reacting to the proposal, India said that while it was ready to consider it as a complement to the special and differential treatment for developing countries, it cannot be a substitute for it.

“India said that under the special and differential treatment, the scope of the exemption should be extended to cover 200 nautical miles from the coastline falling under the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” the official said.

This means that all fishers in developing countries and fishing within the EEZs should be exempted from subsidy prohibition and the governments should be free to extend subsidies to them for various purposes.

Curbing subsidies

WTO members are trying to reach an agreement on how to curb fisheries subsidies, estimated at $1420.5 billion annually, which has lead to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide. With the next WTO Ministerial meet tentatively scheduled at the end of the year in Geneva, attempts are being made to bridge differences between members so that a pact is ready to be signed by that time.

India and some other countries have sought exemption for artisanal fishers who fish in territorial waters, and want it to be part of the special dispensation for developing countries.

Some members objected to the proposal of giving exemptions based on the territory covered, as it could be hard to keep track of and easily evaded. Moreover, it may lead to territorial disputes, the official said.

“The Chair of the negotiating group wants to hold some more discussions on artisanal fishers this week and then continue the discussion on the proposed agreement in the middle of April. This would give members more time to reflect on their positions,” the official added.

Published on March 24, 2021

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