With an aim to move closer to forging an agreement, the chief of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has convened a meeting of all trade ministers on Thursday for discussing issues related to providing fisheries subsidies. "We decided to try and do something a little bit unusual, which is to call this ministerial meeting on 15 July.
"If we could have something that would move us in the right direction and give a strong political message that we need to get on with it, that would be a good thing," WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said. The aim of the meeting is to conclude the negotiations soon and after that, a text is finalised so that an agreement on fisheries can be reached in the forthcoming ministerial meet of WTO in December in Geneva.
Hectic negotiations are going on in Geneva on the matter. Under the mandate from the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in 2017 and the a UN sustainable development goal target, negotiators have been given the task of securing agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. They also aim to secure pacts to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.
Chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia has stated that there is more work to do, and "we are very late with too many missed deadlines". "Hence, the importance of this week's ministerial meeting in giving the negotiations the political push they need," he has said.
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 that provide billions of dollars of subsidies to their fishermen, India's subsidy amounts to only about Rs 770 crore. The government provides subsidies on things 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.
The share of the fisheries sector in the total GDP (at current prices) increased from 0.40 per cent in 1950-51 to 1.03 per cent in 2017-18. WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies were launched in 2001 at Doha, with a mandate to clarify and improve existing WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies. That mandate was elaborated in 2005 at the Hong Kong meet, including with a call for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.