Fishers fret on continued caution

Fishers fret on continued caution

EU to uphold threat over lack of progress

Migrant labourers work on a fishing boat docked at a pier in Phangnga province. The Thai seafood industry risks an import ban by the EU after measures to tackle illegal fisheries and labour practices were found lacking. (Phpto by Patipat Janthong)
Migrant labourers work on a fishing boat docked at a pier in Phangnga province. The Thai seafood industry risks an import ban by the EU after measures to tackle illegal fisheries and labour practices were found lacking. (Phpto by Patipat Janthong)

The Thai seafood industry has come under further pressure after the European Union threatened to maintain its yellow card on Thai seafood imports over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, which could lead to a ban.

The expected continuation of the yellow card from a year ago is likely to mean flat growth for Thai frozen food exports this year and a possible contraction in seafood exports in coming years, said the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA).

"Things are unlikely to get any worse from now on this year," said Paiboon Ponsuwanna, an honorary president of the TFFA. "But if the EU's concerns about the standards of Thai fishing becomes a mass hysteria, spreading to other major importers of Thai seafood, that would be a disaster."

His comments came after an AP report that the EU was maintaining its threat of a seafood import ban on Thailand because the country is not doing enough to improve fishery and labour practices.

The 28-nation bloc is keeping up the pressure after Thai legislation enacted last year to curb illegal practices yielded insufficient follow-up in subsequent months, said two EU officials with knowledge of the issue.

Thai seafood exports make up around 40% of Thai food exports, which are worth 1 trillion baht annually.

Mr Paiboon said Thai seafood exporters have adjusted a lot the past few years, looking to other markets such as Japan, the US, China and Asean to offset the drop in shipments to the EU. But the weak global economy has cut demand, making it unlikely these markets can offset the fall in exports to the EU, he said.

"We are also relying more on the domestic market where seafood demand has risen substantially the past few years thanks to the booming tourism industry, which has brought in a large number of foreign tourists," Mr Paiboon said.

However, local consumption is unlikely to support the industry in the long run, he said.

"Although we passed a lot of measures to regulate our fishing industry, it has not led to the EU trusting us immediately," said Mr Paiboon. "We need to increase our competitiveness to retain our export markets outside the EU."

TFFA president Poj Aramwattananont said the measures take time to have an impact.

"It would be too early to evaluate whether the measures are good or bad because they need a certain period of time to be effective," Mr Poj said. "But if the EU maintains the yellow card or even issues a red card, it would need to have a very clear explanation for the action."

SET-listed Thai Union Group Plc, the world's biggest exporter of canned tuna, said it was too early to evaluate or remark on the situation.

Chutima Bunyapraphasara, commerce permanent secretary, said all Thai government agencies and the private sector, including the Command Center to Combat Illegal Fishing, are trying to raise Thai fishing standards to the EU's level.

The European Commission issued a press release on Thursday stating its concern with Thailand's lack of progress.

"The commission attaches particular importance to the ongoing dialogue with Thailand," the statement began.

"The country was warned with a yellow card due to its inadequate fisheries legal framework and poor monitoring, control and traceability systems. Thailand was proposed an action plan to address shortcomings. The commission is evaluating progress. The dialogue is proving difficult and there remain serious concerns about the steps taken by Thailand to fight IUU fishing activities. This means further action cannot be ruled out. A meeting with the Thai authorities in May will be a new opportunity for them to show their good will and commitment."

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