Talks on WTO fish subsidy curbs can continue in the negotiating group on rules

Efforts to reach an agreement on curbing the harmful fisheries subsidies could be carried forward in the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules meetings to produce a pact, as it got pushed towards conclusion following the failure of the recently concluded 13th Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, officials have indicated.

India, however, is expected to continue to insist on an agreement that will protect the interests of its small-scale fishers and make advanced fishing nations engaging in deep sea fishing take on effective commitments to check their high per fisher subsidies, a source said.

“Members came very close to adopting the Additional Provisions on Fisheries Subsidies at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13). We continue to have a mandate to negotiate on disciplines on subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing and the related special and differential treatment. Many members are calling for the Negotiating Group on Rules to capture the progress made before and at MC13 and to bring the negotiations to conclusion as soon as possible,” said Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland, chair of the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies.

While final efforts to clinch a deal on important issues are made at the WTO Ministerial Conferences, which take place every two years or so, negotiations to iron out the differences on proposed pacts happen in various groups and committees of the WTO. Negotiations on fisheries take place in the Negotiating Group on Rules.

Gunnarsson’s comment was part of an update on the progress made and work ahead in the area of fisheries subsidies provided at a fireside chat of the World Ocean Summit on March 13. WTO Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard also participated in the chat.

At the WTO MC13 last month-end, the WTO members tried to reach an agreement on preventing overfishing and curbing subsidies that contributed to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing but failed.

India, which was one of the main players in the negotiations with its over 9 million fishing families, a majority of them small-scale and artisanal, to protect, refused to agree to a pact that would not fully shield subsidies paid to them, allowing them to grow.

It also insisted that large fishing nations like the EU, the US and Japan, that offered huge per fisher subsidy, and also engaged in deep sea fishing, needed to take substantial cuts.

Also read: Wrong perception about India at WTO 

India’s main demand was that while allowance for unrestricted fishing in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) (up to 200 nautical miles from the shore) without any cuts in subsidies should be provided to protect small-scale fishers, advanced fishing nations should take on commitment for not providing any subsidy for fishing beyond EEZs for 25 years.

New Delhi also wanted non-specific fuel subsidies, mostly provided by developed nations, to be captured while calculating fisheries subsidies given by a particular member country.

Special and Differential Treatment to help developing nations to develop their fisheries sectors was also an important part of India’s demands.

“India’s demands for the WTO fisheries negotiations remain the same. It will not agree to a pact that is not equitable.  The onus of greater subsidy cuts has to be on the actual polluters. Small-scale fishers have to be protected,” the source said.

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