Efforts at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)-level to eliminate certain forms of fisheries subsidies could severely hurt small and livelihood fisherfolk in India, according to an organisation representing the sector.
In a letter to commerce minister Suresh Prabhu, the National Platform For Small Scale Fishworkers (Inland) said, therefore, India should not make any binding commitments on fisheries subsidies at the WTO talks “without conducting adequate research on the impact of (such) commitments, without consultations with the fisher community in India; and without consultation with state governments and Parliamentarians.”
The organisation said India “should not give away major policy tools to boost small-scale, sustainable and employment-generating fisheries sector.” As per the WTO, the negotiations are on 'improving and strengthening WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies', including through ‘a prohibition of certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing.’ The WTO said in a statement on July 18 that “A number of (WTO) members reiterated calls – reflected in all of the proposals - for a fisheries subsidies agreement to be reached at the 11th Ministerial Conference (the WTO’s highest decision-making body), which will be held in December in Buenos Aires.” Mr. Prabhu will be representing India at the Ministerial Conference.
The small-scale fisheries sector in India provides employment to six million people including three million women, as well as livelihood support to around 30 million people, according to the National Platform. Pradip Chatterjee, the Convener of the Platform, said in the letter to Mr. Prabhu that, "While the objective of eliminating huge subsidies to industrial and large-scale fishing sounds noble, an analysis of the proposals (at the WTO) show that it is actually small, informal and artisanal fisher-folk who will be adversely affected by the removal of potential subsidies to them."
He added, “This is because the definition of Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is being primarily targeted (for removal of subsidies), does not explicitly exclude them (small-scale fisher-folk). Most fishermen in India and in other developing countries will therefore fall under this (IUU) category.”
The letter said, “We (small-scale fisher-folk) urge you (Prabhu) not to make any commitments on this issue at Buenos Aires, and in fact, (urge you to) participate further in alliance building with other developing countries on the issue.”
Mr. Chatterjee further said, “The small-scale fishing communities of India, both inland and marine, are working under very precarious conditions in an informal set-up with hardly any policy or financial support from the government.” He added that India should strongly state during the WTO negotiations that small-scale fisheries needs to be supported as it is “a sustainable means of livelihood dependent on natural resources and also an eco-friendly means for food security.”
The Platform said there was also a need for “adequately increasing” the subsidies and preferential treatment to the small scale fisheries sector. The developing countries, including India, need to ensure that they get adequate Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) that will allow them to protect subsidies (even potential future subsidies) as a policy instrument for supporting small-scale fishing and the fisher-folk who are dependent on these sectors, it added. The Platform said it was “alarming” to see that “while the developed countries are refusing to grant effective S&DT to developing countries, the current proposals actually allow them to retain most of their subsidies.”