EU issues final fishing warning

EU issues final fishing warning

Govt told to clean up industry or face ban

In this Nov. 2014, file photo, workers in Benjina, Indonesia, load fish onto a cargo ship bound for Thailand. (AP photo)
In this Nov. 2014, file photo, workers in Benjina, Indonesia, load fish onto a cargo ship bound for Thailand. (AP photo)

Thailand has expressed deep disappointment after the European Union (EU) issued a final warning, a so-called "yellow card" to the country, and gave Thailand six months to drastically improve measures against illegal fishing or face an import ban.

"Although the yellow card does not introduce trade sanctions on European imports of Thai fishery products, it has been a source of grave discouragement that the EU chose to ignore the very earnest efforts of the past six months by the Royal Thai Government in addressing all issues which once were deemed the causes of illegal, unreported and unregulated [IUU] fishing," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued yesterday following the EU decision.

The ministry said Thailand takes allegations of IUU fishing very seriously. The measures which were implemented by the government include structural changes, legal amendments and passage of new laws, prosecution, and preventive measures as major instruments.

"Thailand is deeply disappointed at the EU's decision," the statement said.

More importantly, the EU's decision reflects its failure to recognise the longstanding cooperation between Thailand and EU authorities, the statement added.

"Thailand calls on the EU to take into account the country's substantial and tangible progress in combating IUU fishing. The EU's assessment must be transparent, fair, non-discriminatory, and based on accurate facts and latest developments." 

However, the government vowed to cooperate with the EU to combat IUU activity and urged the EU to rescind the yellow card as soon as progress has been made.

According to the European Commission's announcement yesterday, the country has failed in its fisheries monitoring, control and sanctioning systems and it concluded that Thailand is not doing enough, based on analysis and a series of discussions with Thai authorities since 2011.

"Our rigorous EU policy on a harmful practice such as illegal fishing, together with our genuine capacity to act, is paying off. I urge Thailand to join the EU in the fight for sustainable fisheries. Failure to take strong action against illegal fishing will carry consequences," European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said in the statement.

The decision starts a formal procedure of dialogue with Thai authorities to make them take the necessary corrective measures.

"They will be given six months to implement a corrective tailor-made action plan. Should the situation not improve, the EU could resort to banning fisheries imports from Thailand," Mr Vella said.

Government deputy spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had acknowledged the EU's latest decision and ordered related authorities to speed up resolving the problems systemically.

He said the prime minister, who has left the country for a summit between Asian and African leaders in Indonesia, admitted the fishing problem has been ongoing and needed to be resolved. 

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said the government was handed the yellow card after it became apparent that the EU was dissatisfied with punishments for those who violated fishing regulations.

"Among several issues, the EU was not happy with the punishments, saying they were too light. As for other measures, we thought they were enough, but they might not be [for the EU]," Gen Prawit said.

Meanwhile, Rittirong Boonmechote, president of the global shrimp business unit of Thai Union Frozen Products, a giant fishery business operator which is among those criticised over fishing activities, said the EU decision will inevitably affect the company's business.

"Our customers in Europe and the US have given us a signal that they will not buy our products if the country cannot solve the problem in six months," he said.

He said the Thai government had done many things to deal with the problems including registering 1.6 million migrant workers but these have not yet satisfied the demands of foreign countries due to a lack of public relations.

Mr Rittirong said the private sector would propose the government appoint a "project leader" who has the authority to lead the operation to solve the problem.

"It needs to be clear who has the final say and that we don't have five ministers with equal power over decisions [as happens now]," he said. 

The president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, Poj Aramwattananont, however, said the latest EU warning might only affect Thai fishing products slightly. More significant impacts would be seen from the termination of EU tax privileges early this year and the baht's appreciation.

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