WTO talks: India wants exemption from curbs on subsidy for fishers

Amiti Sen Updated on September 16, 2021

Members object special treatment of developing countries

India is pushing for wide exemptions from subsidy curbs for its fishers in the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations at the WTO to protect livelihoods and also ensure that ambitious plans under the PM's ‘Matsya Sampada Yojana’, to develop the sector, do not get hampered, officials tracking the meeting have said.

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“Developed members such as EU, the US and Japan are continuing their attempts to limit exemptions from subsidy bans but India and many other developing nations are holding their ground,” a source who participated in the talks told BusinessLine.

The WTO has planned a string of meetings bilaterally and in small groups through September till the first week of October to bridge differences over special & differential treatment (S&DT) provisions for developing countries in the draft texts that are mainly holding up an agreement on curbing fisheries subsidies, another trade official based in Geneva said.

This will be followed by the second stage of meetings from October 11-29 where the draft text will be discussed in detail by the chair of the negotiations with all members to produce a clean text that is agreeable to all members, the Geneva-based official added. The final objective is to conclude negotiations before the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva to be hald between November 30 to December 3 this year.

“On S&DT for developing countries, some members were of the view that exemptions should be provided to only small players. They felt that the options in the draft are were very generous and provided far too many carve-outs. Many others held a different view and wanted more flexibilities so there continued to be a stalemate,” the trade official said.

Timeline objected

India opposed attempts to put a timeline for exempting fishers who fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). While one of the provisions in the draft states that small fishers that fish within 12 nautical miles of the shore are to be given exemption without a time limit, those that fish beyond that in the EEZ will have their exemptions withdrawn after a few years.

“Placing a timeline on exemptions from subsidy cuts for fishing in EEZ will restrict India’s policy development for the fishing sector and discourage fleet modernisation plans. The PM has put in place the ambitious Matsya Sampada Yojana which seeks to provide ₹ 20,000 crore for development of infrastructure and modernisation of the fishing sector over five years. We cannot give WTO commitments that could hamper the exercise of lifting millions of fishers out of poverty,” the official said.

The agreement on fisheries subsidies aims to do away with harmful subsidies estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually, leading to overcapacity and overfishing, but it also seeks to safeguard interest of developing countries and LDCs. India accounts for about 4 per cent of the global fishing at 3.8 million tonne catch annually, the official added. China is at the top accounting for 12 per cent of global fishing.

Published on September 16, 2021
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