Prayut charts course to beat EU's import ban
PM in fishing hub to help root out IUU
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asked the public to be patient as the government seeks to do away with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
During one of the premier's mobile cabinet meetings Monday in Samut Sakorn province, home to a huge fishing industry dominated by migrant workers, he visited the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN), the Thai Union Frozen Co and the Fish Marketing Organisation in the morning before heading to Petchaburi for the scheduled cabinet talks on Tuesday.
He said cleaning up the industry was crucial for the nation's economic growth as the European Union has threatened to ban imports of marine products from Thailand unless it sees improvement.
Deputy Prime Minister Chatchai Sarikulya said even though the issue of migrant labourers remains a challenge, a special taskforce will be set up to help regulate the 100-billion-baht industry.
The government has cracked down of fishing companies over the last three years in the face of a "yellow card" from the EU.
EU commissioners are scheduled to conduct an inspection in Thailand from April 4-11.
Mr Chatchai, a former agriculture minister, said the controversial issue of foreigners working in the industry without proper permits will be a top agenda item as they try to weed out human smuggling and cases of rights abuses.
The government has tried to separate the two issues of illegal fishing and illegal labour but the EU wants to bind them together in the interests of greater efficiency as time is of the essence.
"They want to know how we are solving the problem of illegal workers and we've tried our best to satisfy both sides. All agencies are working together to deal with this and we plan to work closer with NGOs," he said.
The government said it plans to set up a taskforce to deal with illegal labourers who work on large trawlers and are at risk of human trafficking.
NGOs have witnessed many examples of workers being abused, even tortured, and working together as partners to overcome the huge challenges they face.
EU delegates must also return to verify how traceable the system is and track where the fish originated, said Gen Chatchai.
The EU has also expressed concern that Thailand's Port In-Port Out (PIPO) Control Centre will require more staff to produce a more detailed and timely report.
The deputy premier said his teams would visit 32 PIPO centres and punish any wrongdoing.
He said the EU is satisfied with the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), how well the law is enforced, and how transparent operations are.
A court has set up a special division to fast-track illegal fishing cases, officials said.
"I still don't know when the EU will revoke its yellow card [against Thailand] but we have seen many positive signs," Gen Chatchai said.
"We and the EU have a common goal to make fishing more sustainable. If the EU repeals the card, we will become the Asean leader in this space," he added.
In 2015, the EU threatened a full ban on seafood imports unless concrete steps were taken.
Pundits predict this could cost Thailand US$300 million.