Tread carefully on fishery subsidies in WTO: CWS to government

Tread carefully on fishery subsidies in WTO: CWS to government

Ahead of the key ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a few days, a government think tank has cautioned India to be "vigilant" while taking any obligations on the subsidies it gives to its fisheries sector as it may end up curtailing the country's flexibility to fish in its own waters.

Citing fish and two of its byproducts - fish oil and fish meal - as having high global demand for use in pharmaceuticals and anti-biotics, respectively, New Delhi-based Centre for WTO Studies (CWS) in a working paper has said that the disciplines on fishery subsidies have a market access agenda and a clear commercial interest of selected developed countries.

The paper comes at a time when India and some other developing countries are fighting to give fuel subsidies to their small and resource-poor fish workers in the proposed global agreement to prohibit subsidies to vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). EEZ is the seazone extending up to 200 nautical miles from the shore and governed by the central government.

An agreement without exempting developing countries will restrict their flexibility to trade in fish and its byproducts, according to experts.

As per the paper, the global fish meal and fish oil market is projected to reach $14.28 billion by 2022.

Lashing out at the proponents of disciplines on fishery subsidies for projecting it as a sustainability concern, the CWS said: "A closer examination reveals the concern for market access as a more prominent driver." "The countries with a large fleet capacity would eventually be the ones bidding for the access rights to fish in the EEZ of developing countries," it said.

It argued that binding rules on fisheries management have been enunciated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. Besides, non-binding obligations on fisheries management are entailed under the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Since the "entangling issues of management at the WTO is complicated", it said countries need to be vigilant as IUU measures should not be a disguised restriction to international trade.

"An agreement on fishery subsidies will ensure that there is no competition from developing countries. Developing countries wouldn't be able to exploit their own resources because they won't have the capacity to do so," the expert added.

"Therefore, developing countries need to ensure that the history of the imbalance suffered from the disciplines on agriculture subsidies during the Uruguay round is not repeated in fisheries subsidies," the centre said in the paper.

By BOA Bureau