India to insist on fishery subsidy and select patent waivers at the WTO meet next month

The next ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will likely consider a raft of critical issues, such as fishery subsidies, WTO reforms, public procurement programmes for food security and the multilateral body’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, including the fate of a patent waiver proposal floated by India and South Africa to better fight the pandemic. The 12th ministerial conference of the WTO will be held in Geneva from November 30 to December 3.

As the talks on fishery subsidies enter a critical phase, India will likely oppose any move to end subsidies for fishermen in developing nations immediately. Instead, it will suggest that the developing countries that are not engaged in distant water fishing be exempted from overfishing subsidy prohibitions for 25 years, taking into account their development needs. At the same time, developed nations should scrap their fishery subsidy in 25 years.

While developed economies, including the US and the EU, have advocated that all countries do away with fishing subsidies linked to overcapacity and overfishing, developing nations have sought to be exempted from such restrictions to protect their small fishermen. Massive subsidies, estimated to be in the range of $14-54 billion globally per annum and extended mostly by large fishing nations, have contributed to overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks, analysts have pointed out.

India is also likely to seek patent waivers to manufacture Covid-related medical products by temporarily suspending certain parts of the global Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. Although WTO members agreed in June to start granular, text-based negotiations for the patent waiver proposal, initiated by India and South Africa to fight Covid, not much headway has been made yet, mainly due to stiff resistance from developed economies like the EU.

The issue of public procurement for food security on which there was no agreement at the Buenos Aires ministerial in 2017 is also likely to be raised at the conference.

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