Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (AFS)

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    In Context 

    Adoption of a new Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (AFS) is one of the most promising outcomes of the recently concluded twelfth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) .

    About Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (AFS).

    • It is the first-of-its-kind, sustainability-driven trade agreement .
      • This is only the third instance of amending the WTO agreement in its 27-year history. 
    • Background 
      • Global fisheries subsidies were estimated at $35.4 billion in 2018, of which $22.2 billion were capacity-enhancing subsidies. 
      • The WTO was tasked by the UN General Assembly to deliver an agreement to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies

    Features 

    • AFS prohibits three kinds of subsidies: 
      • Illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing
      • Fishing of already over-exploited stocks
      • Fishing on unregulated high seas. 
    • Developing country members will enjoy a two-year exemption for subsidies granted within their exclusive economic zones (up to 200 nautical miles from their coasts). 
    • No member will be allowed to provide subsidies to fishing in the high seas, other than where regulated by a fisheries management organisation. 
    • The agreement contains notification requirements and sets up a voluntary funding mechanism to assist developing countries.
    • There would be no limitation on subsidies granted or maintained by developing or least-developed countries for fishing within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).  

    Aims 

    • The aim of AFS as echoed by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.6 is to address harmful fisheries subsidies provided by countries towards marine fishing and to save the world’s fish stocks from further depletion.
    • It would curb ‘harmful’ subsidies on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the next four years, to better protect global fish stocks. 

    Issues /Concerns 

    • Critics argued that this agreement would only restrict and not eradicate subsidies on illegal fishing. 
    • After 20 years of delay, the W.T.O. failed again to eliminate subsidised overfishing and in turn is allowing countries to pillage the world’s oceans.
    • The final negotiated deal lacks the much-needed discipline on subsidies for fishing in other members’ waters and those that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing (OCOF). 

    India’s Demand 

    • India has been steadfastly demanding that developing countries be given a longer transition period of 25 years to put an end to OCOF subsidies within their EEZ.
      • India’s stand on this issue is rooted in its national interest. 
      • Given its long coastline of nearly 7,500 kilometres, the blue economy — sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth — occupies a cardinal place in India’s development trajectory. 
    • India has set a target of exporting marine products worth $14 billion by 2025.
      • India needs the policy space to invest in developing the marine infrastructure to harness the full potential of the blue economy. 
      • India needs to protect the livelihood concerns of close to four million marine farmers, the majority of whom are engaged in small-scale, artisanal fishing, which does not pose a great threat to sustainability.
    • India’s demand for a longer transition period was not acceptable to many countries who insisted on this period being seven years

    Fisheries Sector In India 

    • The fisheries sector has been recognized as a powerful income and employment generator as it stimulates growth of a number of subsidiary industries and is a source of cheap and nutritious food, at the same time it is an instrument of livelihood for a large section of the economically backward population of the country. 
    • Fishery sector occupies an important place in the socio-economic development of the country
    • India is the 3rd largest fish producing and 2nd largest aquaculture nation in the world after China. 
    • The Blue Revolution in India demonstrated the importance of the Fisheries and Aquaculture sector. 
    • The sector is considered as a sunrise sector and is poised to play a significant role in the Indian economy in near future. 

    Related Initiatives 

    • Subsidies 
      • India gives a subsidy of only $15 per fisherman per year, while the corresponding amounts for Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands are $42,000, $65,000, and $75,000.
    • Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY)- 
      • Recognizing the importance and potential of the fisheries sector, the Government of India approved the flagship scheme, Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), in May 2020 under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat COVID-19 relief package with a vision to bring about Blue Revolution through sustainable and responsible development of fisheries sector. 

    Conclusion and Way Forward

    • For the sake of sustainability, countries need to overcome their differences soon and forge a comprehensive agreement with the inclusion of meaningful special and differential treatment” (S&DT) else they risk the indefinite continuation of harmful subsidies by all players and/or weaponization of this agreement as a bargaining chip in other negotiations. 
    • One balancing act could be to consider different ways to effectuate such flexibilities while accommodating the demands in a more targeted manner.
    • Other strategies for India could involve strengthening infrastructure and mechanisms now to be able to utilise any future exemptions.
    • Countries, true to the SDGs, should fulfil their mandates of sustainability and development in good faith.