WTO members struggled to arrive at a consensus on important issues, including fisheries subsidies and agriculture, on the last day of the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on Thursday as developing nations, including India, stood their ground on the need to protect their fisherfolk and farmers while demanding that rich members should pare their existing disproportionate and high subsidies.

“The closing ceremony was postponed from 8 pm Thursday to Friday as there were lots of gaps between members on important issues including agriculture and fisheries that needed to be bridged. It remains to be seen if members can agree on something concrete or whether things get postponed to be settled after the Ministerial,” a person tracking the matter said.

There are meetings happening between India, the EU, and the US on agriculture and China, the EU, India and the Pacific countries on fisheries, the source added.

Fisheries subsidies

Hectic attempts are on to get a consensus on the agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies. India has submitted that those who are responsible for historical wrongs of over exploitation of marine resources through industrialised fishing fleet should be subject to harsh disciplines and the concept of common but differentiated responsibility should be followed.

“India has made a case for extending exemption to small-scale fishers up to the exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles, but the draft text of the agreement based on which the negotiations are taking place has proposed a distance of either 12 or 200 nautical miles, placed in brackets, indicating that the final distance could be any number between the two,” the source said. 

India has also sought a 25 year complete exemption from subsidy cuts for all its fishers so that the fish economy could grow. This also has to be agreed upon.

New Delhi believes that it is equally important to discipline subsidies given by the Distant Water Fishing Nations. It has 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.

Public stock holding

In agriculture, India, together with several developing nations, has demanded a permanent solution to the problem of public stock holding for food security so that it can continue its MSP programmes without any concerns. It has been insisting that other issues, such as domestic subsidies in agriculture, should be negotiated after a permanent solution was provided.

There are other issues too that need to be finalised such as continuation of the moratorium on e-commerce customs duties and the possibility of inclusion of the Joint Sector Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development formally into the WTO as a plurilateral agreement binding on the signatories. India is opposed to both.