Jakarta, 9 June 2022 – Fisherfolk group and civil society ask the Government of Indonesia to reject the draft, which is currently being negotiated at the WTO in Geneva on 13-15June 2022. To be precise next week, the Trade Ministers of WTO member countries will attend the 12th Ministerial Conference, after being delayed due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
One of the discussions is a draft agreement to eliminate fisheries subsidies. The controversial draft agreement aims to eliminate subsidies for the fisheries sector on which small fishers rely to maintain their lives and livelihoods.
A group of civil society organizations and fisherfolks have sent a letter to the President of the Republic of Indonesia and several related Ministers regarding this matter. The letter, which can be seen here, conveys several concerns over the development of negotiations on fisheries subsidies which are believed to have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of fisherfolks throughout Indonesia.
In the letter, it was stated several reasons for the rejection of the negotiating draft: it stated an exception for cutting subsidies was granted for “low-income and resource-poor fisheries and fishing activities,” which was extremely limited. The exception is restricted to fishers operating within 12 Nautical Miles (NTM) or territorial waters but does not apply if they fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Small fishers often cross this 12 NTM limit, sometimes even unnoticed. Such a WTO agreement means that small fisherfolks cannot get subsidies anymore.
In addition, under the pillars of IUU and overfishing, exemptions are limited to 2 years and may even be reduced during negotiations. We believe this is utterly unfair and unrealistic, given that small fisherfolks will continue to remain vulnerable and marginalized even after decades. Therefore, such time and geographical limitations will put small-scale fishers in great difficulty and must be rejected by the government.
Rahmat Maulana Sidik, the Executive Director of Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ), said that our country Indonesia must have full flexibility to provide subsidies for fisherfolks and fishing activities up to the EEZ and the continental zone perpetually. Even the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) recognizes that countries have full rights over the EEZ and up to 250 nautical miles in the continental zone.
Surprisingly, said Maulana, in the draft negotiation of fisheries subsidies, developed countries that have provided large subsidies due to their financial capacity are legally given the opportunity to continue to provide subsidies. The draft states easy requirements for fishing in distant waters and those that have sophisticated management and monitoring mechanisms in place. Developed countries should be responsible for the damage to marine waters at this time. Still, in this draft, developed countries obtain another opportunity to continue to catch more fish in the sea and distant waters.
Tris Zamansyah, Chairman of the FSNN (Nusantara Fishers Union Federation), believes that the WTO should not impose its regulations on our country’s sovereign rights. The Indonesian government should reject the draft, as it would violate fishers’ right to obtain government support simply for operating more than 12 miles. How is it possible that small fishers who are often unaware that they have operated for more than 12 miles are denied the right to receive government support?
Susan Herawati, Secretary-General of the People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), said that the definition of IUU proposed by FAO is problematic. Many small fishers cannot access the formal mechanism of registration and formalization of their status and fall into the unreported and unregulated category because such government mechanisms are weak in many areas. That is why their ability (small fishers) to take advantage of particular government support has been compromised. Depriving small fisherfolks of access to subsidies based on such a wrong categorization is even more unfair and unacceptable.
Dani Setiawan, the Chief Executive of the Traditional Fisher Folk Union (KNTI), said that small-scale fishers in Indonesia operate much more sustainably than the fisheries sector of developed countries, and fishing countries operate in distant waters. However, with the draft fishery subsidy negotiations, we are extremely worried that Indonesia will be required to remove all subsidies, which are far from sufficient, and their scope is still limited.
The letter also mentions that fisheries are an important sector for livelihoods in Indonesia. According to 2017 FAO data, Indonesia has 2.6 million fisherfolks, equivalent to 6.44% operating globally.
Parid Ridwanudin from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) / Friend of The Earth (FoE) Indonesia, the negotiations on reducing fisheries subsidies aims to reduce subsidies in developed countries. Since developed countries provide enormous subsidies, which cause environmental damage. For instance, Indonesia provides subsidies of around USD 92 per fisher while the US provides subsidies of USD 4956, Japan provides subsidies of USD 8385, and Canada provides subsidies of USD 31800 per fisher.
Parid continued, supposedly, these developed countries should bear more obligations as they have been providing subsidies for a long time and have proven to have caused damage at sea, but current negotiations have not taken this into account.
Meanwhile, Esra Dwi Lestari from the Indonesian Fisherwomen’s Union (PPNI) said that we are gravely worried that Indonesian fishers, especially small-scale fisherfolks and fisherwomen, will suffer significant losses. Moreover, in the current situation, the fuel price is high and may increase; reducing and stopping subsidies will place the fisherfolk community in a very vulnerable situation. We fisherwomen are also unsure how this draft agreement will allow flexibility to deal with such crises in the future.
Gunawan, Senior Advisor to the IHCS (Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice), said that we are also concerned. In a footnote to the draft agreement, it is stated that countries with a market share of 10% or more of global marine fisheries are prohibited from using S&D (special and differential treatment). Since Indonesia’s share is currently around 8.6%, therefore, Indonesia could lose its right to use S&D if its share increases even a little. It can even happen if the capture percentage of another country goes down for some reason. For example, our rights are lost even without us capturing more fish.
Gunawan continued that this regulation will put Indonesian fishers at risk of loss. This 10% threshold is unacceptable and should be rejected, he exclaimed.
Afgan Fadilla from the Indonesian Peasants’ Union compared the situation in the negotiations in the agricultural sector. According to him, by looking at the issue of agricultural subsidies, where developed countries and their corporations receive large subsidies, they are dealing with the situation of agriculture and peasant in developing countries. It is similar, where the results will be disproportionately against small-scale fishers in developing countries. And the draft fisheries subsidies negotiations will continue to support wealthy countries with fishing vessels with modern technology that can extract far more massive marine fishery resources
In this regard, Anwar Sastro Ma’ruf from the Confederation of the Indonesian People’s Movement (KPRI) said that the Indonesian government needs to look at how the agricultural agreement at the WTO continues to provide massive subsidies and is still ongoing. Hence, according to him, that is very likely to happen in fisheries subsidies. Where the perpetrators of damage to marine resources and distant waters are developed countries with corporations and giant ships. And now wants to shift the responsibility to small fishers in a country like Indonesia, another developing country.
Rizky Estrada from the INITIATIVE Society said the draft agreement on eliminating fisheries subsidies to achieve the SDGs 14.6 target is inappropriate. The position of subsidies for the fisheries sector needs to be also seen with other targets such as SDGs point 2, one of which is to improve and prevent restrictions and distortions in the world agricultural market. As well as to ensure a sustainable food production system and implement resilient agriculture in food production and productivity. Eliminating subsidies for the fisheries sector and the agricultural sector in the world trade system means eliminating the responsibility of world trade actors, which multinational companies mostly hold for access to the livelihoods of fisherfolks and farmers who have been living under welfare, and ignoring the sovereignty of developing countries to have autonomy in regulating and managing their people.
Rizky continued that we are from civil society and see that the most important thing that should be considered is related to the management of the subsidy. Therefore, it is more appropriate for the benefits of preserving the supporting environment in waters and land, strict law enforcement, and increasing the capacity of fisherfolks and farmers to adapt to climate change and weather. And progressively improve the quality of marine resources, waters, soil, and land quality, as well as the broadest possible access for fisherfolks and small farmers to fill their living spaces sustainably. Therefore, we call on fishing groups and groups of food farmers and salt farmers to have no agreement regulating subsidies, rather than binding themselves to bad agreements that are only subject to irresponsible global trade and business. No Deal is better than a bad deal. So he closes it.
For further information, please contact:
Rahmat Maulana Sidik, Executive Director of IGJ – +6281210025135
Dani Setiawan, Chief Executive of KNTI – +62 812-9671-744
Gunawan, IHCS Senior Advisor – +62 813-8142-0793
Parid Ridwanuddin, Indonesian Forum for the Environment / Walhi – +62 812-3745-4623