India Finds No Level Playing Field In WTO’s ‘Imbalanced’ Fisheries Text
The negotiations on fisheries come at a time when the UNGA has declared 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture.
India has objected to the WTO draft text on curbing fishery subsidies which is being negotiated at the Geneva Ministerial conference, arguing that the outcome of the exercise being carried out now, has not provided a level-playing field to developing nations to address the aspirations of their traditional fishers and their livelihood.
Articulating the deep concerns of low income countries and the developing world over the extreme disparities in the subsidies given by developed countries vis a vis theirs, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal has cautioned about these practices being sought to be institutionalised through the current fisheries text.
‘I would urge all the developing countries to beware of such efforts while we mortgage away our future and the potential of our poor people to grow, become more prosperous and get a chance in life,” Goyal said in his intervention at the fishery subsidies negotiation in the WTO.
The negotiations on fisheries come ironically at a time when the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture and amid the growing protest of developing countries’ against the practice by big powers of allowing their gigantic industrial fleets to exploit the ocean's wealth.
India is neither a distant water-fishing nation nor does it operate huge fishing fleets to exploit the resources indiscriminately like any other advanced fishing nation. According to Goyal, several advanced fishing nations are indiscriminately exploiting the fishery resources in others' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the high seas by being members of multiple RFMOs.
India, which is a member in only one RFMOs, has argued that such nations shall own the responsibility for the damage they have caused to the global fisheries wealth and should bring them under a tougher discipline regime. “Even the present text does not stop such over-exploitation. Instead, it indiscreetly allows such practices indefinitely,” Goyal said.
For India, the concern is legitimate. Several million fishers comprising nearly 9 million fishermen families depend traditionally and significantly on the fish as the only source of livelihood and on assistance and support from the government in the form of subsidy, which, as Goyal pointed out, is one of the lowest.
This is unlike the vastly differing subsidies given by different nations. India has followed a standard process of giving -- for every fisher family that it has -- barely $15 in a year unlike countries which offer subsidies ranging from as high as $42,000 to $65,000 and $75,000 to one fishermen family.
Moreover, the fishermen community in some of these large nations ranges from barely 1,500 to 11,000 fishermen or 23,000. “The concern of the small number of fishermen prevails over the livelihood of 9 million fishermen in India,” Goyal said, describing this as “completely unacceptable” and underlining the reason why India is opposed to the current text.
What puts India on a strong footing is that its small-scale fishing sector has adopted and inculcated responsible and sustainable harnessing of fish and aquatic resources by maintaining fleets of modest size that have largely fished in its EEZ with minimum footprints on the seascape.
Indian fishers observe voluntary restraint for 61 days in a year to allow the fish to grow and regenerate and this varies regionally with fishermen in the west coast of the country stopping this activity from 1 June to 31 July, those in the Bay of Bengal in the east, halting fishing from 15 April to 14 June to allow the fish to breed and regenerate.
However, even after years of placing the imperatives of India’s fisheries subsidy and sustainable management of its natural resources on the WTO high table, as well as aligning its case with similar grievances of other developing nations, little has changed. As a status ‘report of the world fisheries and aquaculture 2020’, suggests, there are an estimated 67,800 fishing vessels of at least 24 meter length with the highest proportion of these large vessels in Oceania, Europe and North America.
A recent article research published in ‘Science Advances on the Economics of fishing the high seas’ alludes that high sea fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54 per cent of the present high seas fishing would be unprofitable at current fishing rates.
India has sought making ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ and ‘polluter pays principle’ as the bedrock of any agreement related to sustainability and that distant water fishing nations should be subject to a moratorium on giving any kind of subsidies for 25 years for fishing or fishing-related activities beyond their EEZ.
It is essential, as per the Indian submission, that they transfer these capacities to the developing countries and least developed countries to give them a chance to grow. India also opposes any move to provide carve-out to such fishing nations under the shelter of conservation and management measures in the draft Ministerial text on fisheries subsidies.
This is especially since the subsidies extended by the developing countries to their small-scale and artisanal fishermen for meeting their genuine needs and enabling their access to fishing for livelihoods in their own EEZ is subjected to scrutiny. India is against such an imbalanced text.
The other demand for India is a transition period of 25 years for itself and other similarly placed non-distant water fishing countries as policy space is essential for the long-term sustainable growth and prosperity of our low income fishermen. At the same time, India wants exemption from disciplines for low income or resource-poor or livelihood fishing up to the EEZ i.e. 200 nautical miles to provide socio-economic security to these vulnerable communities.
Among other proposed revisions are that the agreement must address food security issues, and provide time and space to enhance the capacities of the developing nations in resource management, fleet optimisation, wherever required.
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