WTO negotiations on curbing fisheries subsidies face deadlock

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on November 28, 2020 Published on November 28, 2020

India, some other developing nations insist on S&DT to protect poor fishers while many developed countries want full commitments for all

The on-going negotiation to curb harmful fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is facing a deadlock due to deeply fixed positions of members over special and differential treatment (S&DT) concessions for developing countries.

While India, South Africa and some others are insisting on carve-outs for poorer nations to protect the subsidies of small fishers, there are others who want them to take on full commitments with longer timelines or technical support, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

At a recent meeting of the WTO negotiating committee on rules in Geneva, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, who is leading the S&DT talks, said that he had failed to narrow the gap between differing opinions held by some countries.

"Ambassador Chambovey said that a middle ground is difficult to reach due to the widely differing positions and there was a serious need for all members to show flexibility if a pact was to be in place," the official said, adding there will be more discussions to break the deadlock.


WTO members are seeking to reach an agreement on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated at $14 billion-$20.5 billion annually that lead to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide. The initial year-end deadline fixed for inking the pact now seems very difficult to meet and members could now formally consider a 2021 conclusion.

Several developing countries including India, South Africa and Fiji, pointed out that as per the UN Sustainable Development Goals, effective S&DT should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation.

Ecuador’s proposal for exempting artisanal fishers from the disciplines for any fishing within 12 nautical miles from shore got support from several delegations, but some members noted that the definition of `artisanal’ needed to be fixed. India said S&DT should not only over artisanal fishing but also go beyond that.

Some members like Canada and Australia said that S&DT should not be provided across the board to all developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) but should be allowed following a needs-based approach.

Both India and South Africa pointed out that there was no mention of a needs-based S&DT anywhere in the WTO negotiations or agreements and developing countries and LDCs had never been asked to demonstrate use of S&DT provisions.

In an earlier submission, India had proposed that developing countries with gross national incomes below $5,000 per annum (for three consecutive years), should be exempted from the need to take on commitments for fishery subsidy cuts. The threshold level proposed by India would lead to the exclusion of China, the country with the highest fisheries subsidy, from the waiver.

New Zealand cautioned that if members were insistent on their demand for permanent exclusions to new subsidy disciplines, it would lead to the negotiations dragging on into 2021. The negotiations could conclude faster if there was more flexibility, it said.

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Published on November 28, 2020
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