New fish import rules will undermine the EU fleet, fishing leaders warn

Published on
October 22, 2020

European Union fishermen’s representative body Europêche and the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations (EAPO) have urged the E.U. Council of Ministers to reduce the amount of duty-free fish imported into the bloc, insisting that the increasing volumes arriving in the market from foreign fleets are exerting heavy pressure on domestic producers.

Their warning comes as the E.U. Council is about to approve the new regulation setting autonomous tariff quotas (ATQs) for certain fishery products for the years 2021-2023. This rule covers species such as tuna, Alaska pollock, cod, flatfish, and shrimp for which a relatively high volume can be imported from non-E.U. countries at a reduced or zero-duty tariff.

However, Europêche and EAPO said they believe in many cases, the ATQs are being used with the sole purpose of getting access to “cheap and low-standard fish” from foreign fleets, and this in turn is putting pressure on E.U. producers’ prices and employment. They have calculated that an additional 60,000 metric tons (MT) of imported fish could benefit from the latest ATQ regulation annually.

In a joint statement, Europêche and EAPO say that despite the need for a level playing field between E.U. and non-E.U. producers, they are not surprised by the council’s decision to increase tariff quotas and new species that can benefit from tax derogations, as there has been a constant trend to increase the amount of tons exempted from import duties in the E.U.

While in 1992, only six species representing 43,000 MT were granted reduced import duties, the E.U. will grant zero duty access to more than 20 species representing 810,000 MT, compared to 750,000 MT in the previous regulation.

The organizations said the E.U. catching sector is not opposed to a rational tariff free setting for certain fishery products that are not sufficiently produced in the E.U. However, in light of the negative socio-economic consequences of ATQs for the E.U. fishing industry, this instrument cannot be intended to foment imports from non-sustainable sources nor to put pressure on E.U. producers’ prices, they said.

“The same story repeats revision after revision. The council only listens to some E.U. processing companies that want to get access to cheap fish from non-E.U. countries regardless of the origin or way of production. The increases in volume of duty-free fish works to the detriment of E.U. producers who have to comply with the highest standards of sustainability,” Europêche President Javier Garat said.

Insisting that the new ATQ regulation is “a step in the wrong direction,” Garat said the E.U. should work towards achieving “a true level playing-field in practice, and not just on paper,” between E.U.-produced and third-country produced seafood.

EAPO President Pim Visser said E.U. fishermen are facing extremely low prices and the quantities of unsold catches for certain species is rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Already 60 percent of the fish consumed in the E.U. comes from outside our borders. Subsidizing additional fish imports from non-E.U. countries would not only increase [the E.U.] market's dependence on fish imports, but also put further pressure on prices and leave our companies out of business,” Visser said. “Fishers feel abandoned by an E.U. that puts so much emphasis on the sustainability of E.U. products but so little on imported fish.”

Not everyone is in agreement, however. The European Tropical Tuna Fishing, Processing, and Trade Committee (EUROTHON), for example, would like to see the ATQs go further, saying the new 2021-2023 regulation does not take into account the current competitive framework and context of the E.U. industry.

Earlier this month, EUROTHON cautioned that attempts by E.U. fleet associations to block third-country competition would be to the detriment of E.U. consumers and could affect the 100,000-plus workers of nearly 3,500 processing companies in the E.U.

It said the E.U. canned tuna market amounts to around 760,000 MT, which requires approximately 1.3 million MT of whole fish each year, while the E.U. fleet catches average only 385,000 MT. Moreover, 60 percent of the E.U. catch is sold to third-countries, making just 40 percent is available to European processors as whole tuna.

For this reason, the E.U. processing industry needs to access to a third source option – the ATQ for tuna loins, EUROTHON said, adding that the 30,000 MT of loins received falls some 25,000 MT short of meeting the demands of the E.U. processing industry.

“The council and the European Commission must decide if they want to guarantee the industrial development and investment in Europe to produce canned tuna from here, or to delocalize the facilities to third-countries, promoting their interests, and then lose the whole value-chain, including the fleet, because we would count for nothing without our strong processing industry that is a worldwide leader.“ EUROTHON President Juan Vieites said.  

Photo courtesy of chasdesign/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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