India may raise concerns on flexibilities to developing countries at key WTO meet on Thursday

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India is likely to express concerns at the trade ministerial meeting on fisheries subsidies on Thursday at the questions posed by top officials of the World Trade Organization that seem to favour the developed countries, officials said.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the chair of the negotiating group on rules Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia have asked the members two questions regarding the ongoing negotiations to eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The first question seeks approval from the members to treat the revised draft text issued by the chair on June 30 as the basis to conclude the negotiations and confirm “the basic elements of the landing zones”, while the second question pertains to limiting special and differential treatment (S&DT) to the very poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers.

“India will express its concerns as the questions seem to signal that S&DT can be compromised to achieve an agreement. S&DT is a key principle that can’t be locked with a few fish people,” said an official.

New Delhi’s key concern is with the clause which states that “for purposes of this negotiation alone, and without prejudice to any member’s position on special and differential treatment in any other context, can we agree that the key component of special and differential treatment is for poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers in developing country Members and LDC Members?”.

The negotiations on fisheries subsidies are considered a litmus test for the multilateral organisation wherein the developed countries are trying to limit the S&DT to a few members. Flexibilities under the principle include longer time period to implement agreements and commitments, measures to increase trading opportunities, provisions to protect their trade interests, and support to build capacity to handle disputes and implement technical standards.

Moreover, though the questions have referred to the mandate from the Sustainable Development Goals and the previous WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) under which the fisheries subsidies negotiations are being conducted, is not mentioned. The agenda is unfinished with key issues such as a permanent solution for public stockholding for food security, domestic farm subsidies and the special safeguard mechanism, still unresolved.

“A consensus is unlikely to be reached in this meeting but efforts are on to conclude the negotiations by the ministerial conference later this year,” the official said.

As per an expert on WTO issues, India and other developing countries should push for the simultaneous resolution of the DDA issues along with fish negotiations.

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