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28 Feb, 2024 14:08

India fights for its fishing and agriculture at WTO – media

New Delhi is seeking to defend a practice of providing subsidies that has proven controversial among developed nations
India fights for its fishing and agriculture at WTO – media

India presented a defence of the rights of its fishing and agricultural communities at a meeting of World Trade Organization trade ministers in Abu Dhabi this week. New Delhi claims the sectors are overlooked in favor of the trade interests of developed nations, according to Indian media reports.

At this week’s summit, WTO trade ministers are trying to reach an agreement on the issue of excessive fishing and to update global trade rules pertaining to food and agriculture.

The Indian delegation demanded that the WTO recognize and protect the sovereign fishing rights of countries within their exclusive economic zone, the Hindustan Times wrote. According to Bloomberg, India is seeking to protect interests of its nine million fishermen by demanding that nations be allowed to provide subsidies for small-scale angling within waters that belong to them.

New Delhi has reportedly also asked for a 25-year subsidy moratorium on advanced fishing nations for overfishing in the past. It also emphasized the need to rein in state subsidies for distant-water fishing – meaning large-scale fishing beyond a country’s own territorial waters – a practice dominated by the European Union, Japan, China, and South Korea.

Advanced fishing nations have been giving huge subsidies to their comparatively small numbers of fishermen, wrote the Hindustan Times. “While it is a trade and profit issue for developed countries, for us it involves livelihood and nutrition,” the outlet cited an unnamed official as saying.

The current approach to subsidies “grossly overlooked” crucial factors such as the length of the coastal line, the population of small fishermen, and the per-capita subsidies to fishermen, the Indian delegation said in a statement.

“Any comprehensive agreement on fisheries subsidies should keep in mind the interests and welfare of the fishing community that depends on the marine resources for their livelihood and sustenance,” said the statement, as quoted by Bloomberg.

The WTO meeting also focused on subsidized procurement of food security stocks. India’s delegation argued in favor of relaxing subsidy rules for public procurement of grains at pre-determined prices, Bloomberg wrote.

Some WTO members that are agricultural exporters favor further cuts to the level of government support allowed, arguing that such subsidies distort trade and impede fair competition. The amount of support allowed is already capped, although some exceptions are provided for, such as domestic food aid. Critics of the world’s most populous nation accuse India of exploiting the exceptions and exceeding the limits. 

“Our subsidy is abysmally low compared to what the US gives,” industry expert Abhijit Das, a former head of the Center for WTO Studies, told the Indian Express, referring to subsidies per farmer. “But the WTO rules, unfortunately, are not on the basis of per-farmer subsidy,” he added. 

Developing countries within the WTO say that global trade rules need to be updated to make the agricultural trade fairer. They call on the WTO to find a “permanent solution” to the difficulties that some of them face under the current rules when buying food at government-set prices for public stocks. 

Earlier this month, Indian farmers unions held a protest at which they demanded a legal guarantee of a minimum fixed price for their crops, and a cancellation of free-trade and other agreements with the WTO, among other measures.

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