Fishery subsidies pact: Revised WTO draft fails to resolve special dispensation for poor nations

Amiti Sen

India hopes to have more meetings with designated officials to reach a breakthrough

Negotiations on curbing “harmful” fisheries subsidies are picking up pace at the World Trade Organization with a revised text of the draft agreement now in circulation, but there is still no consensus on the special dispensation for developing countries being pushed for by India. More discussions on the special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and LDCs are scheduled this week in addition to some bilateral meetings to help members narrow their gaps on the matter, according to information shared by the WTO Secretariat.

India had proposed that developing countries with national incomes below a specific threshold level should be exempted from taking on commitments in reducing their fishery subsidies as it would hurt livelihoods of artisanal fishers in the country.

“There is still no agreement on India’s proposal on S&DT. A number of developing countries and LDCs are in support. There are, however, some countries, many of them developed, such as the US and Australia, who are opposed to it. New Delhi has to convince them to come on board,” an official told BusinessLine.

The WTO is attempting to seal a deal on a pact to curb “harmful” fisheries subsidies, estimated at $14- 20.5 billion annually, as early as possible. The targeted subsidies include sops for fishing vessels, nets, fuel, and other inputs offered to poor fishers in India.

Appropriate S&DT

“We would like to remind the membership that S&DT for developing countries and LDCs is an integral and very important part of the instrument or Agreement being negotiated. We have conveyed our views to Ambassador Chambovey (friend of the Chair leading the S&DT talks) and look forward to further discussion with him. Based on these discussions, we are sure that the S&DT proposed in the three pillars of these negotiations in the Chair’s text will be carried forward in the final outcome,” according to a statement made by India’s Permanent Representaive to the WTO on Monday.

The statement added that India was of the firm view that the S&DT, in any final outcome, had to be effective and appropriate with regard to the development needs, livelihood and food security concerns of developing countries and LDCs as well as to their capacity to put in place effective mechanism to deal with IUU and appropriate conservation and management measures.

China’s subisidies

Most WTO members have problems with the idea of exempting China, the largest fisheries-subsidizing country in the world, providing an estimated annual subsidy of $7 billion; India’s proposal took care of the issue. Its suggestion that developing countries with a per capita gross national income of more than $5,000 may not be exempted from subsidy reduction commitments automatically excluded China as its GNI is much higher.

Some other countries, who favour a smaller exemption list, want the GNI threshold to be lower.

Note: This blog is a re-post of the original posted on the The Hindu Business Line Website.