Fishery Subsidies and the World Trade Organization (WTO)

  Jun 23, 2020

Fishery Subsidies and the World Trade Organization (WTO)


WTO members seek limits on fishery subsidies given by its members. They decided at the eleventh Ministerial meeting of the WTO in Argentina in December 2017, members will try to implement an agreement on fishery subsidies by the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) which is scheduled in June 2020 in Kazakhstan.


Its objective is   to prevent over-fishing and curbing illegal and unregulated fishing with the overall objective of preserving marine and coastal eco-systems. 

What are RFMOs?

A number of RFMOs have been set up by fishing nations under the UN Convention on Law of the Seas 1982 to provide a forum through which countries will cooperate to achieve and enforce conservation objectives, both on the high seas and in areas under national jurisdiction. Their responsibilities include assessing the status of fish stocks of commercial value within their area of jurisdiction, setting limits on catch quantities and the number of vessels allowed to fish and putting in place indirect regulations which also apply to gears that can be used.

What are RFMOs and why are they controversial?

Regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) are international organisations formed by countries with fishing interests in an area. Some of them manage all the fish stocks found in a specific area, while others focus on particular highly-migratory species, notably tuna, throughout vast geographical areas.

A number of WTO members are trying to bring in many RFMO measures into the fisheries agreement and make them binding on all WTO countries irrespective of whether they are part of RFMOs or not.

What is India’s response?

India has insisted that the proposed agreement to cap harmful fishery subsidies being negotiated at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should preserve sovereignty of member countries. This should be done by ensuring that determinations of national authorities prevail over those of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and international organisations. India wants sovereignty in determining their stocks and other related matters.

India has also been pressing for special & differential treatment for developing countries to allow it to continue small subsidy programmes for artisanal fishers which is very important for their survival. India subsidies fishermen to buy their fishing boats, nets and so on. 

What do countries like the USA say?

The US and Australia want to place subsidy caps on all countries with large fish stocks, like India and China, irrespective of their development status.