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India’s Fight for Fairness in Fisheries Subsidies

India is taking a strong stand in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on fisheries subsidies, advocating for a principle of “polluter pays” that would hold countries accountable for the environmental damage caused by their fishing fleets. This principle would require countries that engage in distant-water fishing to stop subsidizing their fleets for 25 years.


The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations began in 2001 and culminated in the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement (FSA) in June 2022. However, the most contentious pillar of the FSA, the prohibition of subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, was not finalized in the first phase of negotiations.

India’s Proposal

In September 2021, India proposed a common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) approach to the FSA, arguing that countries that have historically overexploited marine resources with the aid of subsidies should bear greater responsibility for reducing their subsidies.

Specifically, India proposed that countries engaged in distant-water fishing should stop subsidizing their fleets for 25 years. The criteria for determining a distant-water fishing nation would be based on whether a country’s fishing fleets generally fish in waters beyond the FAO major fishing area adjacent to the country’s natural coastline.

Support for India’s Proposal

Several other countries have expressed support for India’s proposal, including Kenya, Djibouti, and Indonesia. Kenya, on behalf of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, has proposed an outright prohibition of subsidies for large-scale industrial fishing. Djibouti, on behalf of the least developed countries (LDCs), has proposed a prohibition of subsidies to large-scale industrial fishing or fishing-related activities in areas beyond the subsidizing member’s national jurisdiction.


While there is growing support for India’s proposal, there are also significant challenges to its implementation. Traditional big subsidizers, such as the United States and the European Union, are likely to resist any curbs on their subsidies. Additionally, there is no clear consensus on how to define “large-scale industrial fishing vessels” or “distant-water fishing.”

Special and Differential Treatment

Another important aspect of the negotiations is the special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries and LDCs. India has argued for a transition period of 25 years for developing countries to adjust to any new subsidy curbs. Developed countries, however, have proposed a much shorter transition period of seven years.


The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations are at a critical juncture. India is playing a leading role in advocating for a fair and equitable outcome that will hold all countries accountable for their role in overfishing. The final outcome of the negotiations will have a significant impact on the health of the world’s oceans and the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on fisheries.

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