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WTO convenes key meeting of trade ministers on July 15 on fisheries subsidies

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AgenciesThe chief of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has convened a meeting of all trade ministers on July 15 to iron out differences with regard to providing fisheries subsidies, sources said. The aim is to conclude the negotiations soon and after that a text is finalised so that an agreement on fisheries can be reached in the forthcoming ministerial meet of WTO in December in Geneva.

Hectic negotiations are going on in Geneva on the matter. The objective of these negotiations is to discipline subsidies with the overall objective to have sustainable fishing and to eliminate IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing subsidies and prohibit subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing.

“It will be an online meeting of the Trade Ministers. WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has called the meeting of the trade negotiating committee on July 15 on the matter,” sources said.

While developed nations are pushing for prohibitions on subsidies, India wants an equitable and balanced outcome as the country provides support to its small and marginal fishermen who depend on the sector for sustenance.

Unlike rich nations which provide billions of dollars of subsidies to their fishermen, India’s subsidy amounts to only about Rs 770 crore. The government provides subsidies on things like fuel and boats.

Fishing communities of developed countries use highly mechanised boats for fishing, which are called mother boats wherein they have processing units also.

As India’s subsidy is minimal and provided to small and marginal fishermen, it has sought more time to implement the norms or disciplines, which would be finalised after complete negotiations, on the prohibition of subsidies for fishing activities in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

There are primarily three areas of fishing – territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the sea shore), EEZ (exclusive economic zones – 200 nautical miles), and high seas.

India wants that fishing activities in territorial waters should be completely out of the ambit of the agreement, while adequate time should be given to implement commitments of the agreement in EEZs.

For this, the country has asked for the necessity of an appropriate and effective special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and LDCs (least developed countries) in the negotiations.

Sources said that the WTO rules should not burden poor fishermen who are making their livelihoods from the sector and catch fish in the territorial waters.

“Where is the evidence to suggest that the root cause of IUU fishing is the fishing taking place within 12 nautical miles of a coastal state? What we are seeking is an exemption up to 12 NM (nautical miles) for ‘U’ and ‘U…,” according to a statement made by India at the open-ended meeting on S&DT provisions in the NGR fisheries subsidies negotiations held on May 31.

For fishing in EEZ (exclusive economic zones) and RFMO (regional fisheries management organisations – it is composed of representatives from nations that fish in a set region or target a specific stock) area, India has stated that the S&DT has to be based on criteria that take into account development needs, developing capacities and time to implement these disciplines.

“….we need a 7 years S&D transition period for the U&U part of the IUU in the EEZ,” it added.

India has time and again reiterated that member countries of the WTO that have provided huge subsidies for unsustainable fishing should first take the responsibility of significantly cutting down those harmful support measures which are leading to over fishing.

“We are of the view that the latest text further takes us away from concluding this discussion. Not having the ability of developing countries who are not enjoying the benefits of large numbers of industrial vessels to protect the livelihoods of small and artisanal fishers, food security concerns and policy space for developing fishing capacity, it certainly needs due consideration,” India has added.

At the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, held at Buenos Aires in Argentina in December 2017, members had agreed to engage constructively in fishery subsidy negotiations, with a view to adopting an agreement by the next ministerial conference, highest decision making body of the WTO.

The 12th Ministerial Conference will take place from November 30 to December 3, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The sector provides livelihood to about 16 million Indian fishermen and fish farmers at the primary level and about twice the number along the value chain.

The share of the fisheries sector in the total GDP (at current prices) increased from 0.40 per cent in 1950-51 to 1.03 per cent in 2017-18.

WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies were launched in 2001 at Doha, with a mandate to clarify and improve existing WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies. That mandate was elaborated in 2005 at the Hong Kong meet, including with a call for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.


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