Judging from the recent proposals submitted by various members, the “polluter pays” principle proposed by India in the WTO fishery subsidy negotiations is gaining wider support. A second round of negotiations is currently underway to develop disciplines banning subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing.
After lengthy negotiations that began in 2001, with the launch of the Doha Round, the fisheries subsidies agreement was reached at the WTO Ministerial Conference on June 17, 2022.
The most controversial pillar of the ban, subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing, could not be agreed upon in the first phase, with WTO members currently engaged in intense negotiations.
India proposed “common but differentiated responsibilities” in September 2021, targeting countries that have overexploited marine resources with the help of huge subsidies to shoulder more obligations.
India proposes that distant-water fishing countries must stop fishery subsidies for 25 years because they are the largest source of pollution. The proposed criterion for a country to be considered a distant-water fishing nation is that its fishing fleet regularly fishes in waters outside the FAO’s main fishing areas and adjacent to the country’s natural coastline.
Support from other countries
Kenya, on behalf of the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) group of countries, proposed an outright ban on subsidies for large-scale industrial fishing. This is ostensibly meant to punish the biggest subsidizers (polluters) whose past subsidies have led to the depletion of ocean fish stocks.
Djibouti, on behalf of LDCs (least developed countries), proposed a ban on subsidies for large-scale industrial fishing or fisheries-related activities outside the jurisdiction of member countries.
In a recent proposal, Indonesia proposed banning subsidies for vessels longer than 24 meters and fishing outside the country’s main FAO fishing areas. Therefore, some countries support India’s “polluter pays” principle and propose a ban on subsidies for large industrial fishing vessels and distant-water fishing.
This is likely to meet resistance from traditional big subsidizers and those engaged in industrial fishing in the distant oceans. Challenges that members will encounter in seeking consensus will be what constitutes a large industrial fishing vessel and how to define distant water fishing.
Another important aspect of the negotiations is special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing and least developed countries, which is an integral part of the negotiations.
Several proposals seek special and differential treatment based on the following criteria: first, fisheries subsidies to countries with a share of global fish catches below 0.8% should not be restricted; second, low-income, resource-poor and subsistence fishing should, in any case, freedom from subsidy restrictions; Third, if subsidy restrictions are to be imposed on countries such as India and Indonesia whose share of the global fish catch exceeds the 0.8% threshold (5% and 8% respectively), then this should be done gradually , there is a transition period.
India advocates a 25-year transition period, while developed countries promote a seven-year transition period (draft negotiation on September 4). Those below the 0.8% level may be exempt from the subsidy. But India and Indonesia will have to fight hard for specialness and technology.
Developed countries and many developing countries are wary of China receiving special and differential treatment because China is the largest producer of marine fish, accounting for approximately 15% of global marine fish production (FAO, 2022). .
The goal is to conclude negotiations by December 2023. WTO members face the difficult task of completing negotiations on this important pillar.
(The author is a former professor at the WTO Research Center of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade)