India submits ‘flexible’ proposal on fisheries sops at WTO

Showing flexibility, India has submitted a fresh proposal on capping fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The approach also signals a move away from its earlier demand seeking exemption for all developing countries from the prohibition of subsidies to vessels.

As per the revised proposal, large-scale industrial fishing vessels and larger developing countries meeting criteria such as per capita gross national income of over $5000 may not be exempted from the prohibition, a Geneva-based trade official told BusinessLine.

“At a recent meeting on fisheries, India stated that its revised proposal shows flexibility to move forward and conclude negotiations by June this year at the Kazakhstan Ministerial meeting of the WTO,” the official said. India’s proposal was a revision of its earlier one made in June 2019.

In its earlier proposal, India had sought exemption for all developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from the prohibition of subsidies to vessels involved in unreported and unregulated fishing.

As per the revised proposal, for a developing country to be not eligible for the exemption on prohibition, it not only has to have a GNI per capita of over $5000 for three consecutive years but also have a more than 2 per cent share in global marine capture and a less than 10 per cent contribution of agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors in its GDP. It should also be engaging in distant water fishing.

Eluding consensus

WTO members are hopeful of reaching an agreement on curbing the ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated at $14 billion-$20.5 billion annually at the forthcoming Ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan. While all members agree that subsidies that are resulting in over-fishing and destruction of marine life should be eliminated or reduced, there is no convergence of views on the areas of exemptions.

Countries such as the US, Brazil and Australia want to place subsidy caps on all countries with large fish stocks, like India and China, irrespective of their development status.

New Delhi, however, has been emphasising that to be implementable, the fisheries subsidies disciplines should least impact the large number of subsistence and artisanal fishermen who in many developing countries like India get miniscule subsidies and who would be rendered destitute without such support.

The Chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills, proposed to circulate a single consolidated text by mid-March as the basis for the final, text-based phase of negotiations. It will focus on the three prohibition pillars which include illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU fishing), overfished stocks, and overfishing and overcapacity. Negotiations on special and differential treatment and transparency for further negotiation will take place once the prohibitions are firmed up.