European Council unanimously approves ATQ regulation, seafood industry response mixed

Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Luis Planas Puchades.

The European Council unanimously adopted a regulation on 27 November that concerns autonomous tariff quotas (ATQs) on certain fishery products coming into the Union from non-E.U. countries, along with rules for managing these quotas.

The regulation, which covers key whitefish species like cod, Alaska pollock, hake, shrimp, and cephalopods, will enter into effect starting 1 January 2024 and expire on 31 December 2026.

ATQs entail a complete suspension or reduction of the duty attached to a limited volume of fishery products entering the region’s borders, and the duties and volumes set by the bloc are specific to each product.

In recent decades, the E.U. has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet demand for fishery products – either because the E.U. doesn’t produce them or because they don’t produce them in sufficient quantities. ATQs aim to ensure that there’s an adequate amount of raw material needed for its processing industry to operate effectively.

Many processors, therefore, have welcomed the ATQs, but fishers and fishery organizations within the bloc have voiced concerns that these regulations allow for third-country products to receive tariff relief while fishery products caught within the bloc are held to higher standards.

In response the European Council said when setting the ATQs it accounted for their potential impact on E.U. suppliers to ensure fair competition between imported fishery products and products of E.U. origin.

“With this regulation, we have safeguarded the competitiveness of our fish processing industry and the supply of European consumers with quality processed fishery products at reasonable prices while taking into account the interests of the E.U. fishing sector,” Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas Puchades said. “We did so only three months after the commission tabled its proposal, ensuring that all stakeholders have legal certainty about the regime which will apply [over] the next three years.”

The ATQs will allow greater quantities of non-E.U. products to enter the bloc with suspended or reduced tariffs, but deteriorating relations between the E.U. and Russia over the war in Ukraine has led the council to refuse Russian-origin fishery products from receiving the benefit of duty-free treatment. Similarly, relations between the E.U. and Belarus are strained for the same reasons, so the council decided to also exclude Belarusian fishery products from the regulation’s scope.

The exclusion of products from Belarus and Russia – notably Alaska pollock, which is a product used in many popular dishes such as fish and chips – will have an impact on trade flow and require adaptation throughout the regulation’s lifespan.

“If, as a consequence, raw materials which are currently not covered by the scope of this regulation are identified as equivalent to those products and urgently needed during the adaptation period, this regulation may be revised to take those circumstances into account,” the regulation said.

In response to the regulation’s unanimous passing, the E.U. Fish Processors and Traders Association (AIPCE) told SeafoodSource that

Photo courtesy of Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

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