WTO ministerial: Fishery subsidy, patent waiver to fight Covid likely to top agenda

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October 21, 2021 3:15 AM

The 12th ministerial conference of the WTO will be held in Geneva from November 30 to December 3.

Fishery subsidyAs the talks on fishery subsidies enter a critical phase, India will likely oppose any move to end subsidies for fishermen in developing nations immediately

The next ministerial of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will likely consider a raft of critical issues, such as fishery subsidies, WTO reforms, public procurement programmes for food security and the multilateral body’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, including the fate of a patent waiver proposal floated by India and South Africa to better fight the pandemic, an official source said on Wednesday. The 12th ministerial conference of the WTO will be held in Geneva from November 30 to December 3.

As the talks on fishery subsidies enter a critical phase, India will likely oppose any move to end subsidies for fishermen in developing nations immediately. Instead, it will suggest that the developing countries that are not engaged in distant water fishing be exempted from overfishing subsidy prohibitions for 25 years, taking into account their development needs. At the same time, developed nations should scrap their fishery subsidy in 25 years.

New Delhi believes that big subsidisers (developed nations) must take greater responsibility to reduce their dole-out and fishing capacities, in accordance with the principles of “polluter pays” and “common but differentiated responsibilities”. The per capita fishery subsidy provided by most developing countries (including India) is minuscule compared to advanced fishing nations.

While developed economies, including the US and the EU, have advocated that all countries do away with fishing subsidies linked to overcapacity and overfishing, developing nations have sought to be exempted from such restrictions to protect their small fishermen. Massive subsidies, estimated to be in the range of $14-54 billion globally per annum and extended mostly by large fishing nations, have contributed to overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks, analysts have pointed out.

Patent waiver

Similarly, India will vigourously pursue its proposal, seeking patent waivers to manufacture Covid-related medical products by temporarily suspending certain parts of the global Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. Although WTO members agreed in June to start granular, text-based negotiations for the patent waiver proposal, initiated by India and South Africa to fight Covid, not much headway has been made yet, mainly due to stiff resistance from developed economies like the EU.

Food security

New Delhi will also push for a permanent solution to the issue of public procurement for food security on which there was no agreement at the Buenos Aires ministerial in 2017. Although India’s key procurement programmes are adequately protected for perpetuity from penal provisions under a peace clause secured at the WTO’s Bali ministerial in 2013 (its permanent status was affirmed in late 2014), it has been trying to ensure this protection acquires a legal status so that even if a member-nation reneges on its promise, the disputes settlement mechanism of the WTO won’t consider its appeal.

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