India took a tough stance against the proposed draft aimed at fishery subsidy at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC-12) in Geneva. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal representing India at the WTO said unlike other advanced fishing nations, India doesn’t operate huge fishing fleets to exploit the resources indiscriminately. Besides, subsidies provided to fishers in India are one of the lowest — to the tune of $15/year for every fisher family in a year,
The 12th ministerial conference, which began on June 12, is taking place after a four-year gap, and in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and will conclude on June 15. Ministerial Conference is the largest decision-making body of the 164-member WTO.
Amongst the WTO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as a patent waiver for medicines as well as subsidies on agriculture, food, and the extension of the moratorium on electronic transmission, the fishery subsidy agreement was the main agenda for the WTO meeting. As India rejects the proposed draft it will likely to lead an impasse, without any outcome at the WTO meeting.
Contention Regarding Subsidy
One of the contentious aspects of the proposed agreement is to reach a consensus on the 21-year-old issue which aims to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing as well as curb subsidies for overfishing and overcapacity in order to promote sustainable fishing. Moreover, the developed WTO members have proposed to eliminate all subsidies under the proposed subsidies agreement.
Goyal said, “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."
Notably, as of 2018, India has provided subsidies worth just $277 million as a subsidy to its small fishermen. This is much smaller compared to the countries like China, the European Union, and the US which have provided subsidies worth $7.3 billion, $3.8 billion, and $3.4 billion respectively to its fishermen.
India is home to as many as 9 million fishermen’s families, who are dependent on assistance and support from the government for their livelihood. Goyal said, “Incidentally, I see a lot of countries very concerned about their fishermen. But what is the number of fishermen? One may have 1,500 fishermen, another may have 11,000...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, also opposed to the way de minimis is sought to be institutionalized.”
According to Goyal, the proposed text doesn’t address the aspirations of the traditional fishers of developing nations.
Contention Regarding the Transition Period
Over the last few years, India has been pushing to seek a transition period of 25 years for developing nations, which are not fishing in the distant water. India, owing to its short fleet, doesn’t indulge in distant fishing. In this year’s WTO meeting, this issue once again remained unresolved. As per the proposed text, the transition period for developing nations was at seven years, which doesn’t align with the proposal put forward by India.
"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.
Contention Regarding Geographical Limits
The text is also contentious regarding the issue of setting up the geographical limits (12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles) for providing subsidies to traditional fishermen. 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 our EEZ i.e. 200 nautical miles, is highly essential to provide socio-economic security to these vulnerable communities. This will allow us to disperse the fishing operations of the low-income, resource-poor, small-scale and artisanal fishers deeper in the EEZ in order to reduce the fishing pressure in the nearer-to-coast regions.”
Goyal alleged that several developed nations, with their distant fleets, exploit the ocean’s wealth.