EU seeks level playing field


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
June 23, 2010

Members of the European Parliament this week voted unanimously to back French MEP Alain Cadec’s resolution that sets out to tackle the European Union’s seafood importing regime.

Central to the resolution is the need for all seafood imports to meet the same standards as European-produced fish and the role tariffs can play in regulating imports.

“Market liberalization is already having a damaging impact on the local economy in certain regions, which are unable to find their own markets,” said the EU fisheries committee.

Europe is the biggest seafood market in the world, valued at EUR 55 billion. Playing a crucial role in feeding the growing demand for seafood is imports, which currently make up 60 percent of the region’s seafood supply. EU seafood production has dropped by about 30 percent over the last 10 years, a result of fishing limits and sustainable management of fish stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy.

Demand is expected to continue to grow, with consumption forecasts indicating that demand could rise another 1.5 million metric tons by 2030, “an increase that will have to be met virtually entirely from additional imports,” warned Cadec previously.

But “the massive influx of imports in an environment of unfair competition could influence the eating habits of the Europeans, who in a time of crisis could turn to cheaper and lower-quality products,” he said on Tuesday.

The fisheries committee also favors switching responsibility for leading the EU’s seafood trade talks from the Trade Commissioner to the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, currently Maria Damanaki. In addition, the committee has demanded that seafood be treated as a “sensitive product” in the World Trade Organization’s talks on gradual tariff reductions.

“The EC should ensure that any agreement on subsidies in the fisheries sector does not place European producers at a competitive disadvantage,” warned the committee.

The resolution also seeks a level playing field in terms of standards. “One of the key aims of fisheries policy should be to ensure that imports meet the same standards as EU production in every respect: environmental, social, health and quality,” said the committee. Such standards could be used, suggested the committee, to agree on trade preferences and could include credible mechanisms for monitoring whether environmental and social commitments are met and allow for preferences to be suspended or withdrawn.

And weighing in on the traceability and sustainability debate to boost consumer awareness, MEPs called for “stringent and transparent criteria for quality, traceability and labeling” for seafood.
With a focus on aquaculture, MEPs also demanded a “vigilant” approach to products from intensive aquaculture operations and called for a study of their health implications.

The resolution comes before the full Parliament in July this year and will feed into the ongoing debate on reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, slated for 2012.

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