Bangladesh will support a proposal to end marine fisheries subsidy at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organisation set to begin later this month, commerce ministry officials said.
Officials believe the ban will be beneficial to underdeveloped countries like Bangladesh as the over-subsidy by some countries is encouraging illegal fishing and overstocking of fish.
The move will not impact the government's cash assistance to the export of frozen fish including shrimp, or the inland water and aquaculture sector, Md Hafizur Rahman, director-general of the WTO Cell of the Ministry of Commerce, told The Business Standard.
He said over-subsidy on marine fisheries by some countries is leading to illegal fishing and overfishing, and overstocking. These can be controlled if the ban is implemented.
It will increase Bangladesh's fish export, he said, expressing hope that the ban will reduce fishing in countries that provide heavy subsidies.
Around $35.4 billion in subsidies was provided to fisheries globally in 2018, according to a study by researchers from the University of British Columbia.
Countries high on the UN Human Development Index (HDI) provided about 87% of total fisheries subsidies. About 62.7% of global subsidies were capacity-enhancing. Beneficial subsidies, which promote sustainable fisheries management, were roughly 29.9% of global subsidies.
Most of the subsidies amounting $26 billion was provided by nine countries, including the European Union members, with China alone giving $7.3 billion.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh falls to the lowest tier of the list with only $161 million in subsidies to marine fisheries in 2018, while India and Pakistan provided $276 million and $210 million respectively.
"Many countries provide free fuel for trawlers to fishers, while many others provide free food and logistics. These facilities allow fishers of those countries to catch fish in huge amounts, which is putting natural fishery resources at risk," Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a programme organised by the Economic Reporters Forum (ERF), he said, "Many Bangladeshis are dependent on natural fishing. So, we are concerned about it as well."
Bangladesh is currently the fifth largest fish producer in the world. The sector contributes nearly 4% to the country's GDP. In the fiscal 2017-18, the country produced 43.34 lakh tonnes of fish, of which only 6.45 lakh tonnes was marine fish.
WTO members are currently negotiating a multilateral agreement to curb fishery subsidies that lead to excess capacity, which may contribute to overfishing, as well as those that support illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The negotiations began in 2001 at the Doha Ministerial Conference and the mandate was renewed at the 11th Ministerial Conference in 2017, with a goal of concluding negotiations by 2020.
That goal was missed due to persistent disagreements between WTO members on certain issues and delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Later, on 30 June 2021, the chair of the WTO negotiations released a revised negotiating text, noting that it will serve as a basis for upcoming discussions. The 12th Ministerial Conference is set to take place from 30 November to 3 December 2021.
Focus on FTA if GSP facility ends after LDC graduation
Commerce Secretary Tapan on Tuesday said LDCs have proposed a 6-9 year duty-free trade facility after LDC graduation. It is hoped that a positive announcement will be made in this regard at the forthcoming WTO conference.
"If for some reason there is no positive announcement, then Bangladesh will keep the discussion alive. On the other hand, Bangladesh will present its position on GSP facilities, TRIPS, intellectual property and other decisions that have not been implemented before, "he added.
The commerce secretary also said Bangladesh is not worried about surviving in the world market as the country is doing well in competitive markets.
"In the first four months of the current financial year, export has increased to the Indian market. Bangladesh also has a good position in the US market. This is a relief for the country."