India will agree to the WTO’s proposed agreement on fisheries subsidies provided the deal is equitable and does not lock member countries into a disadvantageous position in perpetuity, government sources said on Wednesday.
Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are negotiating the agreement with the objective of curbing harmful subsidies to promote sustainable fishing.
Hectic parleys are going on in Geneva to bridge differences on the proposal to reach an agreement by the 12th ministerial conference, starting from June 12.
“India is committed to concluding the negotiations so long as it provides space for equitable growth and freedom in developing fishing capacities for the future without locking members into disadvantageous arrangements in perpetuity,” sources said.
However, they added that convergence is happening in areas of difference and India is actively involved in that process.
“We hope that there can be an outcome because everybody has put in a lot of effort and we hope that something will emerge which will be an outcome and which will be a win-win for everybody,” one of the sources said.
The chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, has called a week-long meeting – Fish Decision Week – of member countries from May 30 to resolve the issues.
India has highlighted that developing countries not engaged in distant water fishing should be exempted from overfishing subsidy prohibitions for at least 25 years as the sector is still at a nascent stage.
The source said that India is keen to finalize the fisheries agreement in the upcoming MC-12 because irrational subsidies and overfishing by many countries are hurting Indian fishermen and their livelihood.
“Countries like India, which are yet to establish large fishing capacities, cannot be expected to sacrifice their future policy space because some members provided considerable subsidies to overexploit fisheries resources and are able to continue to engage in unsustainable fishing,” they said.
India needs to have the necessary policy space for developing the sector, and sufficient time to put in place systems to implement the disciplines under overcapacity and overfishing; and illegal, unreported unregulated fishing.
India has strongly reiterated its position on non-specific fuel subsidies, a higher transition period of up to 25 years under special and differential treatment for developing countries, prohibition of subsidies for distant water fishing, protection for artisanal and small-scale fisheries and exemption up to the maritime limit 200 nautical miles.
Further, on the outcome of WTO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the source said that the response should address the challenges posed by the current pandemic, including Intellectual Property (IP) challenges in augmenting supply production.
Member countries are negotiating on six areas – export restrictions; trade facilitation, regulatory coherence, cooperation and tariffs; role of services; transparency and monitoring; collaboration with other organizations; and framework to respond more effectively to future pandemics – as part of this response.
“There are sharp divergences among the members on these issues,” the source said.
India is currently engaged in deliberations with various members and groups to build a consensus for a balanced outcome on all the elements. “India has concerns on additional ‘permanent’ disciplines in the WTO agreements to respond to the pandemic. India does not want to conflate the challenges of pandemic to areas like market access, reforms, export restrictions, and transparency,” they added.
Certain developed countries like the EU, the US, UK, and Canada are seeking to include elements pertaining to limiting the scope for export restrictions, seeking permanent disciplines with respect to trade facilitation measures, increased market access and limiting the scope for TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver.