India and China have demanded protection of livelihood of small fisherfolk at the World Trade Organization (WTO) but the US has cautioned against allowing developing countries to continue with their sops as negotiations on curbing fishery subsidies picked up pace last week.
While many WTO members, at a recent meeting of heads of delegation in Geneva, expressed their intent to conclude negotiations on the issue by 2019-end, there is no agreement yet on a special dispensation for developing nations, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.
The US, in its representation, said 14 of the top 25 marine catch producers in the world were developing countries and one least-developed country. It said members should thus think carefully about providing carve outs exempting developing countries from provisions to discipline how much subsidies they provide their fisheries sector.
New Delhi, however, took a different view from the US and emphasised that a WTO agreement should consider needs of marginal fisherfolk. “As a developing country, India said it provides minimal subsidies to fisherfolk who depend on the sector for sustenance. It said it wanted an equitable and balanced outcome,” the official said.
Providing carve outs
India’s stress that it provides minimal subsidies to its fishers and should therefore be not subject to caps on subsidies is important given the fact that most developed countries are averse to extending carve-outs to China. China, which too would qualify for special dispensation extended to developing countries, gives subsidies to its fishers several times more than India.
China, in its intervention, said special and differential treatment (for developing countries) should be an integral part of the negotiations. It said, nevertheless, that it will undertake its “due obligation within its capacities”.
The discussions on curbing fishery subsidies is led by an informal grouping of members called ‘Friends of Fish’ (including Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Pakistan, Peru and the US) which argues that subsidies to the fisheries sector — estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually — have led to over-capacity and over-fishing.
At the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December last year, members agreed to work towards adopting an agreement on disciplines that prohibit subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by the next Ministerial Conference in 2019. Although it has now been decided that the next Ministerial Conference will be in June 2020, the 2019 deadline for the fisheries subsidies negotiations will be upheld and that the General Council could take any necessary decision.