New Delhi: The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Argentina in December may see an agreement on fisheries subsidies as the matter is seen as a low-hanging fruit and a clear deliverable.
India may agree to the proposal if special and differential treatment is ensured to developing countries allowing them a longer stretch of time for compliance.
The Doha Ministerial Conference launched negotiations to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies.
And at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, there was broad agreement on strengthening those disciplines, including through prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.
Developed countries claim that fisheries subsidies, estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars annually, create significant distortions in global fish markets and are a major factor contributing to overfishing and overcapacity and the depletion of fisheries resources.
Hence, they say, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing should be prohibited.
But developing countries want to protect subsidies for low-income, resource-poor fishermen for whom it is a matter of livelihood.
“Fisheries will probably mature this time because a lot of ground has already been covered in Nairobi Ministerial in 2015. WTO headquarter is also consciously targeting it as a possible deliverable. Our concern is special and differential treatment (S&D) for developing countries which means you have a longer time to meet the same benchmarks. We will insist on that because that is not yet provided. We need to protect small fishing communities in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha,” a commerce ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
“Whatever disciplines that will be imposed, we don’t want it to constrain our policy space too early,” the official said.
The official said India will focus on a permanent solution on public procurement for food security; special safeguards mechanism allowing poor countries to raise tariffs temporarily to deal with import surges; and trade facilitation in services.
India has agreed to send a group of trade officials to WTO in Geneva next month to fast-track negotiations on public procurement.
“A lot of other ideas are also floating around. But the spadework has not happened yet,” the official said.
India also is willing to talk about e-commerce in the relevant technical bodies of WTO so that it becomes mature enough.
“So far, there has been no discussion even in the regular WTO bodies. Even the definition of e-commerce has not been finalised yet. It’s not ripe yet,” the official said.