Rejecting the current text on fisheries subsidy negotiations, India on Tuesday said WTO members engaged in distant water fishing should stop providing any kind of subsidies for 25 years as they provide significantly higher support measures and are indiscriminately exploiting the fisheries resources.
For every fisher family, India gives barely a $15 subsidy in a year. On the other hand, there are countries that give as high as $42,000, $65,000 and $75,000 to one fisherman's family.
"That is the extent of disparity that is sought to be institutionalized, through the current fisheries text," commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said.
Subsidies like income and livelihood support during the seasonal no-fishing for regeneration of fish stock, and provision of social security nets to the socially disadvantaged fishing communities cannot contribute to overfishing.
India has also sought a transition period of 25 years for developing nations, which are not fishing in distant waters, as the sector is still at a nascent stage.
"The transition period of 25 years sought by India is not intended as a permanent carve-out, it is a must-have for us and for other similarly placed non-distant water fishing countries. We feel that without agreeing to the 25-year transition period, it will be impossible for us to finalize the negotiations, as policy space is essential for the long-term sustainable growth and prosperity of our low-income fishermen," Goyal said.
India's fisheries sector is traditional and small-scale in nature and it is essentially one of the disciplined nations in sustainably harnessing the fisheries resources.
Making intervention in fisheries subsidies negotiation, Goyal said that India cannot agree to an "imbalanced" text which is scrutinizing subsidies extended by the developing countries to their millions of small-scale and artisanal fishermen for meeting their genuine needs and enabling their access to fishing for livelihoods in their own EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) members negotiate an agreement through a text.
It would be a matter of great concern for India that countries engaging in distant water fishing are provided carved out under the shelter of conservation and management measures in the draft ministerial text on fisheries subsidies, he added.
"India would strongly urge that distant water fishing nations should be subject to a moratorium on giving any kind of subsidies for 25 years for fishing or fishing-related activities beyond their EEZ (200 nautical miles from sea shore). It is essential that they transfer these capacities to the developing countries and LDCs (Least Developed Countries) to give them a chance to grow," the minister said.
The WTO members are negotiating the fisheries subsidies agreement, which aims at eliminating subsidies for legal, unregulated, and unreported fishing; curbing subsidies for overfishing and overcapacity; and promoting sustainable fishing.
The current text, he said, has not provided a level-playing field to the developing nations to address the aspirations of their traditional fishers.
Nearly 9 million families in India depend on assistance and support from the government.
"Any decision not to provide space for small-scale and traditional fishers to expand their capabilities would only rip away their future opportunities," Goyal said.
Further, the minister said that a lot of countries are very concerned about their fishermen whose population is about 11,000 or 23,000 or 12, 000.
"The concern of the small number of fishermen prevails over the livelihood of nine million fishermen in India. This is completely unacceptable! And that is the reason, India is opposed to the current text," he added.
Besides the issue of setting the geographical limits (12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles) for providing subsidies to traditional fishermen, the other contentious issue in the current text is about deciding which developing nation or least developed countries will be exempted from prohibiting certain subsidies that lead to overfishing.
WTO members are discussing whether to set the limit at nations with less than 0.7 per cent or 0.8 percent of the global marine catch.
"A de-minimis on the global catch basis without reference to the fishing, the fishermen families involved, the size of the nation, the size of the population being supported is a completely arbitrary and unfair situation. Whether 0.7 or 0.8 per cent, it does not take into account that an African country maybe supports 220 million people or possibly support a very large number of fishermen against another country which may be supporting a 2 million–3 million population and ten thousand fishermen, how can the de-minimis be the same for all sets of people," he added.
India has also raised serious concerns about the proposed prohibition limited to only specific fuel subsidies and leaving out the non-specific fuel subsidies.
In the total fisheries subsidies, the share of fuel subsidies is estimated to be around 22 per cent, which is mostly in the form of non-specific fuel subsidies.
"Leaving out disciplining non-specific fuel subsidies has no justification in the science of fisheries conservation," Goyal said.
The exemption from disciplines for the low-income or resource-poor or livelihood fishing, particularly again for those nations not involved in long-distance fishing up to EEZ (200 nautical miles), is highly essential to provide socio-economic security to these vulnerable communities, he said.
"It is necessary to open the eyes of this august assembly to the deep concerns of the low-income countries and the developing world and the developed nations to the huge disparity sought to be foisted on us once again like it was done in agriculture 35 years ago," Goyal said.