In a new proposal submitted to the WTO, India has proposed that developing countries not engaged in distant water fishing should be exempt from overfishing subsidy prohibitions for 25 years. It has said that only those who have overexploited the environment should pay for rectifying the situation, a Geneva-based official has said..
India’s submission, made at the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules earlier this week, also said that exemption from subsidy cuts for artisanal and low-income fishers should be retained, as suggested in the draft text on ending harmful fisheries subsidies circulated by the chair, but it should be without a limit on time and geography. The proposal is in line with the ‘polluter pays’ approach that New Delhi has been supporting.
“Many WTO member countries, including prominent developed countries, noted that India’s proposal had no element that could help bring about a compromise between members. A suggestion in the submission that stressed on members reducing their fishing capacities rather than subsidies was also questioned,” according to the official.
WTO members are trying to arrive at an agreement on eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies leading to overcapacity and overfishing, estimated at $14-20.5 billion annually, by November 2021 in time for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12). The idea is to formalise the pact at the MC12 to be held from November 30-December 3.
However, a sharp divide has emerged between rich and poorer nations over the special and differential treatment to be accorded to developing countries in terms of exempting them from commitments to eliminate fisheries subsidies.
A joint proposal made by the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and the African Group at the same meeting proposed that exceptions to fishing subsidies within a developing country’s own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) should not be subjected to a five-year time limit as suggested in the chair’s text.
They also suggested a de minimis (ceiling) level as per which developing countries whose share of global fishing falls below a minimum level will be exempted from subsidy cuts, both with regard to overfishing and distant water fishing. The exact figure, however, is to be negotiated.
India accounts for about 4 per cent of the global fishing at 3.8 million tonnes of annual catch, according to industry estimates. China, on the other hand, is at the top accounting for 12 per cent of global fishing.
New Delhi’s submission was also criticised by some members for backtracking on the hybrid approach suggested in the chair’s text which presumes that certain types of subsidies contribute to overfishing such as subsidies for fishing boats, fuel or other fishing gear. India has instead proposed that overfishing would be self-determined by a member or by Regional Fishery Management Organisation in their jurisdictions.