Fishery subsidy: India to seek fairer deal at WTO

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November 15, 2021 5:30 AM

“Naturally, the standards are set by the advanced fishing countries to suit their purpose. So, we think the text is not a balanced or fair text,” said one of the sources.

Given that a consensus on the ways to curb fishery subsidy remains elusive just days before the ministerial starts on November 30, an agreement at the meeting of the trade ministers seems unlikely unless key groups settle on a middle path.Given that a consensus on the ways to curb fishery subsidy remains elusive just days before the ministerial starts on November 30, an agreement at the meeting of the trade ministers seems unlikely unless key groups settle on a middle path.

India and many other developing countries are pushing for changes to the latest draft negotiating text on fishery subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as they apprehend that their interests are being shortchanged while advanced fishing nations — primarily responsible for the fast-depletion of the world’s fish stocks — get to continue with their elevated levels of sops.

Given that a consensus on the ways to curb fishery subsidy remains elusive just days before the ministerial starts on November 30, an agreement at the meeting of the trade ministers seems unlikely unless key groups settle on a middle path.

The new text, sources said, seems to suggest that those who demonstrate certain convoluted standards of conservational management can continue to extend subsidy for distant water fishing and those who fail to do so can’t offer it. The fear is the text is drafted in such a manner that advanced fishing nations (led by China), which have been exploiting the global resources for decades with impunity and have developed vast capacities, can show compliance to be able to perpetuate their subsidy.

In contrast, most developing nations that haven’t quite developed the capacity for distant water fishing but are willing to do so as they achieve certain degree of economic progress, won’t be able to immediately demonstrate these standards; consequently, they can’t offer the dole-outs.

“Naturally, the standards are set by the advanced fishing countries to suit their purpose. So, we think the text is not a balanced or fair text,” said one of the sources.

India, sources said, will seek certain “carve-outs” to ensure a special and differential treatment for developing countries that are not quite engaged in distant water fishing. It also wants a 25-year exemption for these countries from overfishing subsidy prohibition so that they have some policy space to develop their vastly-underdeveloped distant water fishing segment.

At the same time, it suggests big subsidisers abolish their dole-outs for fishing in areas beyond their exclusive economic zones (200 nautical miles) within these 25 years, which will then set the stage for developing nations to follow suit.

New Delhi believes that big subsidisers must take greater responsibility in scrapping their dole-outs and reducing fishing capacities, in sync with the principles of “polluter pays” and “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

India and many other developing and least-developed countries offer only a tiny fraction of the subsidies extended by the advanced fishing nations (See the chart). An independent study by a group of authors, led by U Rashid Sumaila of University of British Columbia, shows the fishery subsidy in India stood at only $227 million in 2018, way below $7.26 billion in China, $3.80 billion in the EU, $3.43 billion in the US, $3.19 billion in South Korea and $2.86 billion in Japan.

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, who is the chair of the negotiating group on rules at the WTO, introduced to heads of delegations the revised draft text on November 8 for clause-by-clause negotiations. The aim of this final phase, Wills said, was to collectively evolve the draft text ideally into a completely clean text or at least as clean as possible, with only one or two issues left for ministers to decide during the 12th ministerial conference.

India has made it clear that it is very keen to finalise a fishery agreement but it wants a “balanced” agreement that addresses concerns of developing and least-developed countries as well.

The new text, sources said, seems to suggest that those who demonstrate certain convoluted standards of conservational management can continue to extend subsidy for distant water fishing and those who fail to do so can’t offer it. The fear is the text is drafted in such a manner that advanced fishing nations (led by China), which have been exploiting the global resources for decades with impunity and have developed vast capacities, can show compliance to be able to perpetuate their subsidy.

In contrast, most developing nations that haven’t quite developed the capacity for distant water fishing but are willing to do so as they achieve certain degree of economic progress, won’t be able to immediately demonstrate these standards; consequently, they can’t offer the dole-outs.
“Naturally, the standards are set by the advanced fishing countries to suit their purpose. So, we think the text is not a balanced or fair text,” said one of the sources.

India, sources said, will seek certain “carve-outs” to ensure a special and differential treatment for developing countries that are not quite engaged in distant water fishing. It also wants a 25-year exemption for these countries from overfishing subsidy prohibition so that they have some policy space to develop their vastly-underdeveloped distant water fishing segment.

At the same time, it suggests big subsidisers abolish their dole-outs for fishing in areas beyond their exclusive economic zones (200 nautical miles) within these 25 years, which will then set the stage for developing nations to follow suit.

New Delhi believes that big subsidisers must take greater responsibility in scrapping their dole-outs and reducing fishing capacities, in sync with the principles of “polluter pays” and “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

India and many other developing and least-developed countries offer only a tiny fraction of the subsidies extended by the advanced fishing nations. An independent study by a group of authors, led by U Rashid Sumaila of University of British Columbia, shows the fishery subsidy in India stood at only $227 million in 2018, way below $7.26 billion in China, $3.80 billion in the EU, $3.43 billion in the US, $3.19 billion in South Korea and $2.86 billion in Japan.

Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, who is the chair of the negotiating group on rules at the WTO, introduced to heads of delegations the revised draft text on November 8 for clause-by-clause negotiations. The aim of this final phase, Wills said, was to collectively evolve the draft text ideally into a completely clean text or at least as clean as possible, with only one or two issues left for ministers to decide during the 12th ministerial conference.

India has made it clear that it is very keen to finalise a fishery agreement but it wants a “balanced” agreement that addresses concerns of developing and least-developed countries as well.

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