TWN  Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr17/05)
13 April 2017
Third World Network

Resistance to accelerated talks on fisheries subsidies, e-commerce
Published in SUNS #8440 dated 10 April 2017

Geneva, 7 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) - India has protested the attempts of the chair for Doha rules negotiations, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, to accelerate negotiations on fisheries subsidies based on his specific questions, instead of allowing members to negotiate the issues based on their textual proposals, trade envoys told SUNS.

India strongly objected on Thursday (6 April) to the chair's failure to take into consideration the progress or lack of it in all other unresolved Doha issues, and thereby, constructing an unsymmetrical framework.

The Indian concerns were shared by several other countries - China, Indonesia, Fiji, and even Ecuador among others.

They shared India's concern over attempts by the chair to quicken the pace of discussions on fisheries subsidies in an asymmetrical framework, trade envoys said.

However, several other countries from South America and the members of the coalition of Friends of Fish led by New Zealand, supported the chair in his attempts to press ahead with discussions on the specific questions he had circulated on disciplines for prohibited subsidies, according to trade envoys from South America.

At an informal open-ended meeting of the rules negotiating body on Thursday (6 April), India intervened twice to protest the process adopted by the chair, arguing that in a "member-driven organization, it is for the proponents to submit comprehensive proposals, including what type of specific subsidies they would like to be prohibited."

In other areas of negotiations in the WTO, according to India, "the proponents have led the discussions with other elements of textual proposals."

Further, it would be "premature to have intensive issue-based discussions in the small group format before the submission of textual proposals from the ACP Group, LDC Group and from Peru, Argentina and others," India maintained.

So far, only one member - the European Union - has submitted a textual proposal while other proponents seeking prohibition of fisheries subsidies have not tabled their proposals until now. Therefore, "this asymmetry in the process is a cause of serious concern," India emphasized.

India urged the chair "not to proceed at this pace without members' proposals clearly outlining positions on various issues instead of posing leading questions ..."

"This is the process in other areas of negotiations... So should it be in fisheries subsidies," India insisted.

India's intervention was prompted by the chair's attempts to drive the negotiating process based on his specific questions on specific disciplines for prohibiting fisheries subsidies on March 28 and his latest set of questions on fisheries management system which were issued on April 6.

In his fax to members on March 28, the chair had posed questions on "subsidy prohibition" in what he claimed as the "first-issue-specific discussion". That discussion was held yesterday.

In a restricted document on issues concerning "subsidy prohibition," the chair asked members to answer a range of questions on the scope of the prohibition and various subsidies that are catered for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, subsidies adversely affecting overfished stocks, and subsidies contributing to over-capacity or overfishing.

He also asked members to suggest possible ways to resolve the subsidy prohibition instruments in these three areas.

The chair suggested that members must address whether there should be "a prohibition" in the three categories of subsidies that sustain IUU fishing, overfishing resulting in depletion of stocks, and subsidies contributing to overcapacity.

Members must discuss which subsidies are to be prohibited - "all, or certain listed types"- and geographic scope limitations as well as nature/scale of fishing activity limitations in all three categories, Ambassador McCook had suggested.

Further, members must also indicate "exceptions" in all three areas of subsidies such as whether subsidies are benefiting vessels or operators or owners in IUU fishing, and identifying adverse effects on overfished stocks.

The chair's questions on "Scope of the prohibition" include the following:

i. Subsidies to IUU fishing

(a) Should there be such a prohibition?

(b) If so, types of subsidies to be prohibited - all, or certain listed types?

(c) Geographic scope limitations? Nature/scale of fishing activity limitations?

(d) Any exceptions?

(e) To or benefiting vessels, and/or operators, and/or owners?

(f) Basis for identifying IUU (to operationalize the prohibition) - e.g. RFMO lists, other lists, other sources

Issues regarding how such designations or identifications are made

ii. Subsidies in respect of or adversely affecting overfished stocks

a. Should there be such a prohibition?

b. If so, types of subsidies to be prohibited - all, or certain listed types?

c. Geographic scope limitations? Nature/scale of fishing activity limitations?

d. Any exceptions?

e. Basis for identifying overfished stocks - data availability and reliability

i. To what extent should disciplines rely on existing data from outside sources?

ii. Which data sources?

iii. To what extent should disciplines refer to "scientific basis", "best scientific evidence available" or similar terms regarding the stock assessment process underlying any given source or assessment?

f. Adverse effects on overfished stocks - what types of effects, how to identify them?

iii. Subsidies contributing to overcapacity or overfishing

a. Should there be such a prohibition?

b. If so, types of subsidies to be prohibited - all, or certain listed types?

i. "Capital cost" subsidies only?

ii. Also subsidies for (certain) operating costs? Which?

c. Subsidies presumed to contribute to overcapacity or overfishing, or contribution to be demonstrated case-by- case?

d. Geographic scope limitations? Nature/scale of fishing activity limitations?

e. Any exceptions?

During the marathon meeting on 6 April, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand on behalf of the Friends of Fish group, the European Union, Japan, and several other countries offered their respective assessments about what needs to be done on prohibited subsidies.

China, which also provided answers to some of the questions, said that it is seeking a balanced outcome in all areas of the Doha rules negotiations that includes improvements in anti-dumping rules and disciplines.

India said while it is ready to engage in the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, it must remain "member-driven" with other areas crucial to developing and least-developed countries, including India.

"The chair was running away with the process at the behest of the European Union, while Argentina and the World Trade Organization director general Roberto Azevedo consider that the issue of fisheries subsidies is a low hanging fruit that can be harvested at Buenos Aires," said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

In the face of opposition from India to his questions, the chair disowned the questions he had circulated on Fisheries Management System on 6 April.

The chair had posed the following questions on Fisheries Management System (FMS) in his fax sent to members:

i. Relationship of FMS to scope or operation of subsidies disciplines

a. In general:

* Subsidies disciplines as component of FMS?

* FMS as component of subsidies disciplines?

* FMS as alternative to subsidies disciplines?

* Other?

b. In respect of subsidies in various contexts, e.g.,:

* IUU fishing

* Overfished stocks

* Contributing to overcapacity or overfishing

c. Potential relationship of FMS to S&DT

(ii) If existence and implementation of FMS are part of the disciplines

a. Existence

* Basis for determining existence of FMS

* Geographic level (e.g., national, regional)

b. Implementation

* Basis for determining if FMS is being implemented

* Geographic level (e.g., national, regional)

c. Substance of FMS - what standard for substantive quality of FMS?

* Science-based?

* International instruments?

* National legislation?

* Other?

(iii) FMS organizations or authorities

a. Which if any organizations or authorities are relevant/should be referred to in the disciplines?

b. Substantive standards in the disciplines for their operation?

c. Degree of deference in the disciplines to determinations by such organizations or authorities?

(iv) If FMS is not part of the disciplines, what alternatives for defining and implementing disciplines (if agreed) in respect of subsidies in various contexts, e.g.,:

* IUU fishing

* Overfished stocks

* Contributing to overcapacity or overfishing

(v) What is the right balance for role of WTO if FMS incorporated in the disciplines?

* Ensuring minimum standard for the FMS that is being implemented, and

* Avoiding WTO having to judge the details of FMS

* Inspiration from SPS/TBT Agreements?

* TFA-type approach?

* Other models?

In the face of India's opposition to the chair's questions on FMS, four countries - Peru, Panama, Colombia, and New Zealand - said they will co-sponsor the questions on FMS for the next meeting on April 11.

Meanwhile, in another development at the WTO's Council for Trade in Goods on 6 April, a large majority of developing countries opposed attempts by the European Union, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Argentina, and China to start discussions on e-commerce on grounds that it would provide opportunities for developing, least-developed countries, and small enterprises.

"We need not be told what is good for developing countries when we know that you want to foist rules for e-commerce at the WTO which we do not think is good for the developing and poorest countries," said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

Uganda, on behalf of the least-developed countries, issued the strongest statement saying the proposals made by the European Union, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Argentina, and China fall outside the scope of the work program on e-commerce.

Uganda spoke about the lack of infrastructure and digital divide in the LDCs.

India said that it would not discuss rule-making issues in e-commerce, saying it is premature, a stand shared by Cuba.

In short, despite massive opposition from developing and least-developed countries, hectic attempts are made by major industrialized countries along with the director-general to harvest fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises at the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires later this year, trade envoys said.