Hectic parleys to begin from September 1 in WTO to conclude negotiations on fisheries subsidies pact

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Hectic parleys will begin from September 1 among members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva to iron out differences on a proposed agreement on fisheries subsidies, an official said. The aim is to conclude the negotiations soon so that the member countries can finalise the text on the pact before the 12th ministerial conference, to be held in Geneva from November 30, the official added.

The talks would happen in two stages — from September 1 to September 12 and then from September 13 to October 8.

During the first stage, Ambassador Santiago Wills, Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, will hold consultations in various formats. Under this, member countries can meet the chair or hold discussions among themselves on key issues.

From September 13 to October 8, intensive text-based negotiations would happen on substantive issues on which there are divergent views of the member nations.

The main aim of the second stage is to minimise differences and improve the negotiating text by making it more convergent.

“The objective is to finalise a fully-agreed clean text, ahead of 12th ministerial conference,” the official said.

The agreement is aimed at disciplining subsidies with the overall objective to have sustainable fishing, eliminate IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing subsidies and prohibit subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing.

At the WTO’s ministerial meeting on fisheries subsidies on July 15, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had stated that member countries still need to cover significant ground to make the negotiations text for the agreement balanced to meet the concerns of developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

India has time and again emphasised that it is keen to finalise an agreement on fisheries subsidies in the WTO as irrational benefits and overfishing by many countries are hurting domestic fishermen and their livelihood.

Goyal had pointed out that it is essential that big subsidy providers take greater responsibility to reduce their subsidies and fishing capacities, in accordance with the principles of ‘polluter pays’ and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.

According to him, the proposed agreement has to provide for current and future needs as the per capita fisheries subsidy given by most developing countries is minuscule compared to advanced fishing nations.

While developed nations are pushing for prohibitions on subsidies, India wants an equitable and balanced outcome as the country provides support to its small and marginal fishermen who depend on the sector for sustenance.

Unlike rich nations which provide billions of dollars of subsidies to their fishermen, India’s subsidy amounts to only about Rs 770 crore. The government provides subsidies on items like fuel and boats.

The 12th Ministerial Conference will take place from November 30 to December 3, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The sector provides livelihood to about 16 million Indian fishermen and fish farmers at the primary level and about twice the number along the value chain.

WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies were launched in 2001 at Doha, with a mandate to clarify and improve existing WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies.

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