India has notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the subsidies it pays fisherfolk amid demands from a U.S.-led group of nations for a ban on subsidies given for illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
The move comes even as India has expressed concern over committing to norms at the multilateral level that will impact the livelihood of its subsistence fisherfolk.
The filing to the WTO Committee on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM), shows ‘fishery subsidy schemes’ at the Central-, state- and union territory-levels provided for subsidies worth Rs.284 crore in 2014-15, and they mainly aim to “protect and secure the livelihood of traditional and poor fishing communities.”
The U.S.-led group, ‘Friends of Fish’, is seeking a ban on subsidies given for IUU fishing, citing the rising global demand for fish and the consequent increase in ‘unsustainable’ fishing.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's ‘State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture’, almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974.
India, among others, has expressed apprehensions that the demand for a ban on subsidies for IUU fishing could lead to prohibition even on fishing that could be termed non-IUU. This could, in turn, harm the interests of lakhs of subsistence fisherfolk in poor and developing nations, official sources said.
This is because currently there is no unanimity among WTO members on what constitutes IUU fishing, they said, adding that several countries including India are wary about agreeing to stringent norms on this aspect due to its possible impact on the livelihood of millions of workers in the fisheries sector.
The demands of the ‘Friends of Fish’ grouping include ensuring a ban on subsidies, including that on fuel, which cut operating costs. India will be one of the countries that will be impacted by such a ban, as, out of its Rs 284 crore worth fishery scheme subsidies in 2014-15, about Rs.172 crore is on account of reimbursement of central excise duty on High Speed Diesel (HSD), exemption of sales tax on HSD oil for mechanised boats, VAT rebate on HSD oil, and subsidies to purchase fuel (kerosene/petrol for Out Board Machines- OBM).
‘Cherry picking’ of topics of interest to developed nations and prioritising negotiations on fisheries subsidies are happening even as progress of talks has slowed on the Doha Development Agenda’s other aspects such as food security - of interest to India and many other developing nations, the sources said. Even when it came to negotiations on fisheries subsidies, the ‘Friends of Fish’ group is not targeting the subsidies given by the U.S., which among other sectors also benefits its fishing industry, to be banned, they added.
Tamil Nadu tops list
According to India's notification (dated October 27), the information was given for transparency purposes and in accordance with the WTO’s SCM agreement. Of the total subsidies worth around Rs 284 crore granted in 2014-15 as part of ‘fishery subsidy schemes’, Tamil Nadu led the list with Rs.169.3 crore (of which around Rs.148 crore is in the fuel category), followed by Goa (Rs.29.35 crore), the Central government (Rs.28.4 crore), Maharashtra (Rs.19.4 crore), Karnataka (Rs.15.1 crore), Gujarat (Rs.11.9 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs.6 crore), Daman & Diu (Rs.2.34 crore), Andaman & Nicobar (Rs.97 lakh) and Lakshadweep (Rs.79 lakh). The subsidies were provided to fishermen who are either homeless or poor, boat owners, those with registered crafts, and members of fishermen cooperative societies.
The subsides, in addition to those on fuel, were for purchase of inboard machine / OBM for non-mechanised boats, for providing insurance cover to fishermen for accident due to cyclone/mishap/calamities, for purchasing nets, accessories, life-saving jackets and advance technique equipment, for supply of deep freezers and ice boxes, for building port infrastructure, for purchasing safety and communication equipment, and for repairing and renovating fishing boats.