Amiti Sen | New Delhi, May 13 | Updated on: May 13, 2022

Week-long discussions to look at ‘special & differential treatment’ for developing nations, fuel subsidies, forced labour issues

WTO members will hold week-long intensive negotiations starting May 16 aimed at resolving “remaining issues’‘ for a global deal to curb harmful fishing subsidies, many of them crucial for sustainability of Indian fishing community, ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) next month.

The outstanding issues to be resolved include special & differential treatment for developing countries being advocated by India, treatment of non-specific fuel subsidies, and transparency requirements for forced labour, a Geneva-based trade official pointed out.

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“There is no doubt that a worldwide deal is within reach — never has it been this close and we must not miss this opportunity. Ultimately, we should not be negotiating against each other but against the unrelenting depletion of global fish stocks so vital for livelihoods, food security, and a healthy planet. The longer we wait, the more the fish lose. And the more the fish lose, the more we all lose,” chair of the Fisheries negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, said in a video message announcing that the “Fish Week” at the WTO will take place on May 16-20.

Fighting for concessions

India has been fighting to secure concessions under special & differential treatment dispensation for developing countries so that it can continue subsidy programmes for its fishers, many of them artisanal. Both the Centre and State governments in India provide subsidies to fishers through various programmes for purchasing essentials such as boats and fishing nets and also give fuel subsidies.

“India wants the right to give subsidies to develop its fisheries resources to continue for some time to come. It had proposed that developing countries that are not engaged in distant water fishing should be exempt from over-fishing subsidy prohibitions for 25 years. The idea is that the onus on developed nations, who have over-exploited the environment including water resources, should be much more than on developing nations for rectifying the situation,” another source said.

India’s argument

New Delhi has also been opposing attempts to exclude non-specific fuel subsidies, that can be mostly afforded by rich nations, from reduction commitments. Developing nations, which provided targeted fuel subsidies to fishers, should be allowed to continue to do so, it had argued.

The introduction of labour issues in the fisheries negotiations by the US, through its proposal on transparency requirements for forced labour in fishing, is something that New Delhi is not comfortable with. “There are a number of countries including India, Russia and China that have not supported the US proposal. While New Delhi totally supports labour rights, there are other forums to look at it and WTO may not be the best organisation to take decisions on labour issues. Yet, it is a matter being pursued at the on-going fisheries negotiations,” the source added.

An estimated 34 per cent of global stocks are overfished compared with 10 per cent in 1974, according to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. This indicates that fish population is being depleted at a rate faster than it can be replenished and the trend needs to be reversed.

Published on May 13, 2022