WTO fisheries subsidy: India insists on ‘polluter pays’ principle

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India has stuck to its demand that certain developing countries be exempted from commitments to eliminate fisheries subsidies despite failure of World Trade Organisation (WTO) members to reach an agreement on the matter this year. It has also said that ‘polluter pays’ principle should be applicable in any agreement relating to sustainability including fisheries.

“Those who have provided huge subsidies leading to overfishing and overcapacity should take higher cuts in subsidy and capacity,” India’s statement at the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) delivered earlier this week by Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the WTO said. “Common but differentiated responsibility and polluter pays principle need to be applied here,” it added.

‘Target missed’

On Monday, the chair of the WTO Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) Santiago Wills officially announced that the year-end target to reach an agreement on elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies will not be met.

While he mostly blamed the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for the delay, the inflexible positions held by members on the issue of special & differential treatment for developing countries was one big reason for the lack of consensus on a pact. “Meetings are now being planned keeping in mind several convening opportunities in 2021,” he said.

The proposed pact on being negotiated aims to eliminate “harmful” fisheries subsidies estimated at $14- 20.5 billion annually. The subsidies that are being targeted include sops for fishing vessels, nets, fuel and other inputs offered to poor fishers in India. At the TNC meeting, India’s representative thanked the NGR chair for bringing in the concept of debt repayment that is overdue.

Debt repayment

“It is an established principle that debt is repaid by respective debtors in proportion to the debt taken. Debt repayment can’t be assigned to all in a uniform manner. S&DT in the final outcome must be effective and appropriate having regard to the development needs, livelihood and food security concerns of millions of small fishers of developing countries including LDCs,” India’s statement highlighted.

India, which has been pushing for developing countries to get exemption from subsidy cuts, had submitted a proposal stating that those developing countries whose GNI per capita is above $5,000 for three consecutive years, have above 2 per cent share in global marine capture, and the share of agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors is less than 10 per cent of its GDP, should not get exemption.

New Delhi’s criteria would result in the exclusion of China from the exemptions. But several WTO members have opposed India’s proposal.



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