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Bargain rightly on agri, fisheries subsidies at WTO meeting

Experts urge government

FE REPORT | February 19, 2024 00:00:00

Experts at a seminar on Sunday urged the government to make full-fledged preparation for its bargaining on agriculture, fisheries and e-commerce subsidies at the WTO ministerial meeting to be held later this month.

Organised by civil society organisations, the seminar was told that the WTO draft on fisheries sector subsidies would surly go against the interest of least developed countries (LDCs).

As Bangladesh has just started its initiative to cash in blue economy as a way to achieve its development goal, it should maintain positive incentives also in the coming years to expand vast fisheries development in the sea, viewed the experts.

Equity and Justice Working Group (Equity BD), a national platform of CSO and NGOs in Bangladesh, organised the seminar to discuss the possible position of the Bangladesh delegation on the eve of the thirteenth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO MC13) to be held between February 26 and 29.

Coast Foundation, and 'Our World is Not for Sale' were co-organisers of the seminar titled "WTO's mandate is for improving people's lives, not promoting unjust corporate trade", held at CIRDAP Auditorium in the city.

Economist Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad chaired the seminar while Equity BD Chief Moderator Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Deputy Director (Marine) of the Department of Fisheries Dr Mohammad Tanveer Hossain Chowdhury, CSRL's Ziaul Haque Mukta, and Internet Governance Forum's General Secretary Abdul Haque Anu spoke among others.

Barkat Ullah Maruf of COAST Foundation presented the keynote at the seminar.

The recommendations for the Bangladesh Delegation to the WTO MC13 mentioned in the keynote presentation include demand for the implementation of the benefits promised at the MC12 to sustain the transition of the graduation of the LDC.

The paper demanded stopping the developed countries' subsidies on the big industrial fishing which is key responsible for overfishing and depletion of global fish stocks.

Raising opportunities and subsidies for small-scale farmers in LDCs, removing barriers for the LDC and developing countries to generate revenue from the e-commerce transactions of big tech companies was also recommended.

The paper also stressed the need for supporting the demand for public stockholding and food security in the agricultural sector, extending the TRIPS Waiver in medicines for the LDCs and newly graduated developing countries to ensure poor people's access to medicines.

Aminul Islam, director of Cost Foundation, said Bangladesh is now collecting fish from the top layer of the sea while it is yet to start industrial fishing in the deep layer.

He said following the socio-economical development goals of the country, the blue economy should be expanded vastly.

And doing so, Bangladesh's subsidies on fisheries sector further might be increased, he said.

He said the calculation on fishing of Bangladesh by WTO should also be reviewed as it is based only on top layer fishing.

Mohammad Tanveer Hossain Chowdhury said according to the WTO's proposed text, Bangladesh, as an LDC, has already harvested more than 0.8 per cent of the quota of global fish collection.

So, Bangladesh might not give subsidies to the fisheries sector as peer the WTO draft.

However, the fisheries agreement will not be binding unless all countries must sign it within the next two years, he said. He said Bangladesh has been giving positive subsidy for preserving the oceanic ecology which would be informed in the Bangladeshi text.

He also said Bangladeshi fishermen are bound to stop fishing for 87 days which has resulted in a rise in fish and other aquatic life production in the sea.

The government is giving farmers rice during the 87 days period for refraining from fishing under its vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme which is not subsidy rather a way of compensation.

Bangladesh has the base within maximum 12 nautical miles in the sea when it has the sovereignty over the 200 nautical miles where it has the right on all biological and mineral resources.

Then vast area is yet to be explored and if Bangladesh could not avail fishing right across the area it would be deprived of its fundamental right, he said.

He said beyond the 200 nautical miles, Bangladesh has also a right over minerals expanding 370 nautical miles.

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