THAILAND NEEDS to put a much stronger legal framework in place for the fisheries sector to meet international standards on environmental protection, as required by the European Union because of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a senior T
Pimchanok Vonkhorporn, minister for commercial affairs at the Thai embassy in Brussels, said the IUU issue - for which Thailand got an official warning last week and was given six months to solve - has nothing to do directly with labour abuses and human trafficking.
“IUU relates to the traceability of fishery products exported by Thailand to the EU market, which may involve 17 other countries also on the IUU list (as some of these countries may be sources of the raw materials),” Pimchanok said.
“In fact, IUU has been a significant problem for us for the past four to five years. We’re currently the third largest seafood exporter to the lucrative 28-country EU market so there has been growing competition from other exporting countries.
“The situation worsened (after the coup d’etat in May last year) because negotiations for the new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Thailand the EU were suspended. Earlier, fishery products were supposed to be part of the new FTA. Otherwise, they would be subject to a 7 per cent import duty,” she said.
Pimchanok said Thailand needs to issue more rules and regulations to solve the IUU problem, especially in terms of traceability of products, and equipment on Thai fishing vessels.
In regard to equipment, the first group of EU officials is expected to visit Thailand next month to inspect fishing vessels and follow up on the installation of global positioning system (GPS) equipment on board all vessels, as they want to ensure that illegal and unreported fishing is reduced.
“GPS and other equipment will allow authorities to monitor the activities of fishing vessels to see if they comply with rules and regulations. Earlier, they found that we had not installed the equipment adequately.
“Overall, we need a strong political will to solve the IUU problem. More organic laws and regulations are required if we’re going to get a ‘green’ card from the EU,” she said.
At present, Thai fishery products have the third largest share in the EU market after Norway and China.
However, shipments from Thailand in the first quarter of this year dropped slightly when compared to the same period last year largely due to the 7 per cent import duty put on Thai products after the expiration of the generalised system of privileges (GSP) this year.
Pimchanok said orders for Thai fish products are expected to slow more in the second and following quarters due to the psychological impact of the EU’s IUU warning or “yellow” card.
Among major competitors in the EU market are Central American exporters, such as Ecuador, which still enjoy tax privileges under the GSP system.
At present, Thailand exports fishery products worth a total of Bt170 billion annually, of which Bt20-30 billion are shipped to the EU market.