India introduces “polluter pays” proposal in WTO negotiations

India has issued a bold new proposal at World Trade Organization talks on ending harmful fishery subsidies.

India has issued a bold new proposal at World Trade Organization talks on ending harmful fishery subsidies.

New text offered by Indian officials during the ongoing negotiations suggests existing leading distant-water nations should effectively pick up the tab for damage done to global fishing stocks and ecological systems. Under this “polluter pays” principle, other developing nations without a distant-water fleet would get a 25-year exemption from subsidy prohibitions.

Under the Indian proposal, nations with larger fleets will also have to commit to reducing their fleet sizes by a certain percentage each year. The proposal doesn’t refer to any country by name, but China, which has the world’s largest distant-water fleet (followed by Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea), stands to lose the most if the Indian proposal were to go through. China’s fleet remains in expansion mode, with provincial governments promoting and backing larger fleets as a strategic contribution to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. As Asia’s second-largest country by population, India has been very wary of China’s BRI and other initiatives to expand Chinese regional influence.

Other major fishery powers – the European Union, for example, which has historically been a major distant-water operator, largely thanks to the Spanish fleet – would also stand to lose from the Indian proposal, though the E.U. has in recent years reduced the size of its fleet in overall vessel numbers.

A separate proposal from an informal grouping of African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries seeks to adjust existing text on carve-outs for developing nations by setting a threshold figure (based on individual countries’ current catch as a percentage of the global catch), below which nations would be exempt from subsidy prohibitions – including those as related to overfished stocks.

The ACP proposal was more warmly received than the Indian proposal because it worked with existing text, whereas the Indian proposal would be a significant change to the current draft, according to a trade official involved in the talks in Geneva, Switzerland. The WTO is seeking an approved working draft in advance of a ministerial meeting in October, but India’s new proposal at this late stage also shows how far away a deal may actually be to end two decades of talks on fishery subsidies.

Photo courtesy of wantanddo/Shutterstock


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