New Delhi: Once considered a low-hanging fruit, an agreement on cutting fisheries subsidies at the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires next month now looks unlikely as the US wants to include curbs on inland and recreational fishing against the earlier proposal for cutting down subsidies only on high-sea fishing.

“The US wants to change the basic nature of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies. Though the US is trying to target China, this could derail fisheries subsidies talks," a commerce ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a statement released on 3 November, the WTO said China and the US have submitted fresh proposals for the draft agreement on fisheries subsidies.

The US in its proposal said as an interim step, countries need to re-commit to complying with existing notification obligations under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures at MC11 and agree on additional new categories of information to be reported.

“With a more comprehensive picture of existing programs and their trade and conservation impacts, members will be better positioned to develop fisheries subsidies obligations that would be effective in achieving the objectives of addressing the worst forms of subsidies, including those that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity, and IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing," it added.

India is open to an agreement on fisheries subsidies at the MC11 if special and differential treatment is ensured to developing countries, allowing them a longer stretch of time for compliance with protection for marginal farmers.

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.

But developing countries want to protect subsidies for low-income, resource-poor fishermen for whom it is a matter of livelihood.

Both China and India provide only de minimis (negligible) support. China provides 8.5% while India provides 10% as product-specific and non-product specific support under de minimis. The two countries are also exempted from reducing their de minimis support under the existing Doha negotiating mandates, particularly the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration.

In contrast, the rich countries provide support under the most trade-distorting amber box measures, the de minimis support and the blue box of minimal trade-distorting support programmes.

The US, the EU, Japan, Switzerland and Norway also provide a large quantum of funds under what is called green box subsidies, which are currently exempted from reduction commitments. But several studies have pointed out that even the green box subsidies provided by the rich countries are trade-distorting and need to be reined in.

India’s focus at the MC11 will remain on a permanent solution to 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 is also likely to thwart any move by developed countries to push for an agreement on e-commerce rules at MC11.