Goa meeting smooths discord between Indian shrimp exporters, EU buyers

Published on
February 8, 2018

Facing mounting barriers to trade in the form of increased inspections, Indian shrimp exporters demanded fairer treatment from the European Union in a much-anticipated meeting with E.U. buyers at the 2018 International Seafood Show on 28 and 29 January in Goa, India.

The buyers, in turn, asked their Indian counterparts to do more to combat the overuse of antibiotics that has resulted in the increased rate of E.U. inspections, according to Willem van der Pijl, the director of the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal (STIP), which organized the meeting. 

The meeting was attended by representatives of the government of the Netherlands and E.U. importers Klaas Puul, Seafood Connection, Nordic, Seacorin, SIPA, and Belgian retailer Colruyt, as well as around 30 Indian exporters.  Van der Pijl described the meeting as a “first step” in smoothing relations between the two trading partners. 

“The attendance of the meetings were very encouraging. It showed the commitment of all stakeholders to preserve and enhance trade between the E.U. and India,” he said. “While concerns were expressed about E.U. protocols, having E.U. representatives present allowed for some of these questions to be aired and clarified.”

Over the past two years, tensions have ratcheted up as antibiotic-contaminated shrimp has arrived in the E.U. from India. As a result, in 2016, the E.U. increased the number of consignments it inspected from 10 percent to 50 percent. The move has caused a trading logjam, with Indian shrimp now taking six weeks longer to get to European markets, and has raised the price of Indian shrimp in the E.U. In November 2017, an E.U. inspection team visited India to conduct a review of its seafood quality control regime, and the team’s formal report will be delivered later in February.

Van de Pijl said he sought guidance from Indian authorities – the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) in particular – on how to proceed with the discourse. As a result, attendees were invited to share their experiences and expectations on how proceed on issues related to the measures taken by the E.U.

The exporters complained that a single rejection at an E.U. port now results in a company being removed from the E.U. approval list. This seems to be a special measure for India as normally, after a container is rejected for antibiotics, the E.U. would put the next 10 containers of that company under full inspection, according to van der Pijl said. If no rejections are found in those 10 containers, the company would be allowed to export to the E.U. under normal conditions again.

Van der Pijl said that importers and exporters agreed there was a lack of clarity surrounding the procedure for being delisted and relisted from the E.U.’s list of approved importers. For relisting, importers were told that companies need to submit a corrective action plan to the Export Inspection Council (EIC). Once reviewed and approved by the EIC, the authority then submits the action plan to the European Commission, which makes the ultimate decision on relisting a company. However, many exporters complained that, while they have submitted corrective action plans already, they have heard nothing back from the EIC or the European Commission. 

A representative from the EIC explained that the agency is in the process of submitting the corrective action plans of a number of companies. The European Commission representative said as soon as his organization receives the plans, it will review them and provide feedback to the Indian authorities.  

Concerns from importers remained centered on levels of antibiotics in the shrimp coming from India. With between 70,000 and 100,000 shrimp farmers located across the country, top-down management of how antibiotics are used can be a difficult task, and strengthening of control measures alone “might not be sufficient to address the issue,” the E.U. representative acknowledged. 

In a press release, STIP’s van der Pijl said his organization will be regional, multi-stakeholder dialogues in India to find solutions for improving the management and control at the level of primary production. One of the concrete activities under consideration is the creation of short educational films explaining good aquaculture practices and alternatives for antibiotics, which can be disseminated quickly to a large number of farmers.

At the conclusion of the meeting, van der Pijl called it a success, while acknowledging it represented just “first steps.”

“We believe that issues and concerns of Indian exporters were directly aired to the E.U. counterparts that were present,” van der Pijl said.

Van de Pijl said he has requested exporters to engage in further discussions with Indian authorities and associations to determine further steps that can be taken to build upon the progress made at the meeting.  Both immediate and long-term action plans will need to be developed, he said. 

“[We] have been asked by many stakeholders to continue the dialogue and encouraged to offer support for the interventions needed, including those needed in the sector of primary production,” van der Pijl said.

Among the suggestions under consideration, van der Pjil said, is a follow-up meeting to take place during Global Seafood Expo in Brussels, Belgium in late April 2018.

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