India has submitted a new proposal at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) on-going negotiations on prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies suggesting that the role of the dispute settlement panel in the matters of fisheries management of coastal states should be limited and a member should be allowed to retain its sovereignty on the matter, a Geneva-based official has said.

New Delhi’s earlier proposal of exempting countries from subsidy reduction commitments based on national incomes, although criticised by some developed nations at this week’s negotiating group meet, has been retained by the chair of the negotiating committee for further refinement.

“India is playing a key role in the WTO fisheries negotiations which is important as an agreement to limit subsidies will have a deep impact on the livelihoods of Indian fishers, many of them small and artisanal. The two proposals made by the country are key to ensuring protection of vulnerable fishers and guard the nation’s sovereignty,” a trade expert said.

Attempts are being made at the negotiating committee to avoid an apparent deadlock over special & differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and push forward the talks towards conclusion. Members are seeking to reach an agreement on prohibiting ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated at $14- 20.5 billion annually that lead to over-fishing and depletion of fish stocks worldwide.

“In its latest proposal to the WTO, India said that the role of dispute settlement panels in the fisheries subsidies agreement should be limited in terms of what it is allowed to review related to fisheries management determinations. It wants to ensure that the sovereignty of a member should not be compromised,” the Geneva-based official told BusinessLine .

Although India’s new proposal has not been discussed yet by the members, it holds a lot of importance for the country as it does not want to give up its sovereignty on the important issue of fisheries management. “India has been making this point at the WTO that the determinations of national authorities need to prevail over those of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO) and international organisations. It believes that countries should be allowed to maintain their sovereignty in determining their stocks and other related matters,” he said.

At the negotiating group meet, many countries pointed out that India’s S&DT proposal on exempting developing countries with gross national incomes below $5,000 per annum (for three consecutive years) and fishing volumes below a certain level from fishery subsidy cuts, lacked consensus. “The proposal was, however, retained as the chair said that many members were keen to hold discussions around the proposal and refine it based on their understanding,” the official said.

The threshold level proposed by India is important for the country as it would lead to the exclusion of China, the country with the highest fisheries subsidy, from the waiver.

The WTO has been looking at a year-end deadline for concluding the fisheries talks but it is now likely to spill over to 2021.