WTO fishing subsidies: India sticks to fishing subsidies as WTO tries to avoid impasse

Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal told a meeting of delegates Tuesday that it would not bend on demands for extensive exceptions on a 20-year negotiation to curb harmful government fishery subsidies, according to a statement on his ministry’s website. 

He also insisted members water down the WTO’s subsidies rules for government-backed food-purchasing programs aimed at feeding poor citizens, delegates in attendance said.

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“The Indian delegation has raised everybody’s eyebrows,” Mexican Undersecretary of Foreign Trade Luz Maria de la Mora said in an interview. “You cannot come to a negotiating forum, particularly at this stage, making demands that they brand as non-negotiable.”

Lowered Expectations

The tough stance by one of the world’s largest developing economies could threaten a multi-year effort to conclude a package of small but symbolically important deals and may cement the view that the WTO is no longer a viable forum to address the shortcomings of international commerce.


“We are getting to the tough spot of the negotiations now,” WTO Spokesman Dan Pruzin said in a press briefing. “The not-so-good news is that we are running out of time. It is crunch time.”

The WTO has operated for more than a quarter century on the basis of consensus decision-making — meaning any one member’s veto can scuttle agreements. That model, critics say, is also why it’s been largely ineffective as a deal-making forum for much of the past decade.

The world’s top trade officials are now mulling the prospect of a more polarized era of trade relations where multilateral deals become a relic and like-minded nations move forward without the holdouts.

“These subsidies rules are concern to India and smaller, poorer countries that rely on the certainty of a rules-based system to benefit from trade,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.. “They risk that being eroded in ways that we don’t know what a replacement would look like.”

Overtime Negotiations

Pruzin said delegates may extend the ministerial conference, originally scheduled to conclude on June 15, to try to provide more time to pull off a victory under the leadership of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. But other attendees were pessimistic that there is anything that could convince India to show flexibility. 

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