India has emphasised that a comprehensive agreement on fisheries subsidies, which is being negotiated at the on-going 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, should be built on the principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDR- RC). It must also incorporate special and differential treatment (S&DT) to protect the livelihood and growth needs of the fishing community in developing countries.

Also read: Wrong perception about India at WTO

“India stressed that historically, while subsidies to the fisheries sector has led to over exploitation, subsidies are also vital for developing countries and small economies to develop and diversify their fisheries sector as well as to protect the food security and livelihood security of their fishermen,” per an official statement issued by the Commerce Department on Tuesday.

As this negotiation is linked to the concept of sustainability, any comprehensive agreement on fisheries subsidies should be built on the principles of CBDR- RC and appropriately incorporate S&DT provisions, it added.

Joint Call

Fisherfolk from developing nations such as India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, too, stressed on the need for protection of their livelihood and made a joint call at Abu Dhabi emphasising that support to small-scale fishers should not be “traded away” in the fisheries subsidies pact.

“In India, we have more than 100 million fishers and approximately 61 per cent are still living below the poverty line. For India’s small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fishers, the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies will directly impact their livelihoods…Given the inherently semi-formal nature of their work and the limitation of advanced navigation equipment, small fishers operate beyond these proposed limits up to  200 nautical miles (nm),” said Olencio Simoes from the National Fishworkers Forum in India.

India has already made a case for extending exemption to small-scale fishers up to 200 nm, but the latest draft text of the agreement has proposed a distance of either 12 nm or 200 nm, placed in brackets, indicating that the final distance is open for more negotiations.

For the fisheries agreement to be effective and forceful in advancing the sustainability objectives, there is an urgent case for capturing the non-specific fuel subsidies and transfer of fishing rights to corporate fishing under government-to-government payments within the ambit of the disciplines, India argued at the negotiations on Tuesday. Equally important is the need to discipline subsidies given by the Distant Water Fishing Nations, it said.

Social safety net

India urged members to introduce a moratorium on subsidies by Distant Water Fishing Nations for fishing or fishing-related activities beyond their EEZs for a period of at least 25 years.

Representative of The People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), Indonesia, Fikerman Saragih, pointed out that there are 2.4 million fisherfolk, majority of them women, involved in the sector in his country. “The proposed subsidy prohibitions will risk breaking Indonesian laws and regulations, which clearly state that small-scale fishers are entitled to subsidies from the government including for fuel subsidies, fisheries insurance, life insurance, fishing risk guarantees and realizing fish prices that benefit fishers. This proposed agreement will harm fisherfolk,” Fikerman stated.

Also read: WTO implements new services rules pact between 72 members 

The subsidies that Bangladesh is currently giving in fisheries are not for capacity development for marine fishing but as a social safety net for poor fishing families to let them survive during the three months of fishing ban in a year, said Maruf Barakat Ullah, COAST Foundation, Bangladesh commented. “The fishing ban is to replenish the fish stock in the sea... Bangladesh has passed the threshold of 0.8 per cent for marine fishing, so it will not be allowed to subsidise marine fishing. This is so controversial,” he said.