India and Sri Lanka have found support from several other World Trade Organization (WTO) members, such as Namibia, Indonesia, South Africa and the ACP Group, in expressing doubts over concluding the on-going negotiations for curbing fisheries subsidies by the end of this year, due to the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is a positive development for India as a shifting of deadline will allow it more time to negotiate a well-balanced package with special carve-outs for artisanal fishers while maintaining status quo on the existing subsidy programmes till it is done.
“Since the July meeting, when it was agreed that members will work towards concluding the fisheries package by the end of this year, several more members added their voices to those who have expressed doubts about completing work by the end of the year, in the negotiations on Monday. In addition to India and Sri Lanka, which had reiterated their previous view that work could spill over to 2021, members such as Indonesia, Namibia and Panama said it was likely that deadlines may need to be adjusted as Covid-19 restrictions continued in most parts of the world,” according to a Geneva-based official.
The first phase of text-based negotiations on fisheries started at the WTO on September 14. The talks will go on the entire week.
The fisheries subsidies pact being negotiated at the WTO seeks to end ‘harmful’ fisheries subsidies estimated between $14 billion and $20.5 billion annually. As it also targets sops for fishing vessels, nets, fuel and other inputs that are offered to poor fishers in India, New Delhi wants certain exemptions for poorer countries.
It had submitted to the WTO earlier this year that due to Covid-19 disruptions, several countries, especially those with relatively low resources, were not able to focus on the negotiations and hence were not in a position to stress on their areas of interests. It had thus urged more time.
“In the meeting on Monday, there were some other countries that did not explicitly mention any particular deadline but warned that the increase in Covid-19 cases worldwide can make it difficult for many members to communicate with their governments back home. For instance, Vanuatu, on behalf of the ACP Group, said members must be prudent while South Africa said the pace of the negotiations should consider the situation of capital-based officials. Nigeria said a good outcome is better than just meeting any deadline,” the official told BusinessLine.
India, in February 2020, submitted a revised proposal for special & differential treatment for developing countries with provisions that would exclude large fishers like China from the benefits.
New Delhi, as per some officials, suggested that large-scale industrial fishing vessels and larger developing countries meeting criteria such as per capita gross national income of over $5,000 (China’s is much higher) for three consecutive years may not be exempted from the prohibition.
China, which is the largest fisheries subsidising country in the world, provides an estimated annual subsidy of $7 billion and accounts for the highest catch while India’s subsidies are less than $300 million.
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