European fishing industry body Europêche has strongly criticised the adoption by the European Council of a regulation for preferential market access (Autonomous Tariff Quotas), which it states are extended to products of questionable reputation, without any consideration of sustainability criteria.
The regulation grants the EU’s fish processing industry opportunities to import seafood products not available in sufficient quantities in the EU at reduced rates or duty-free.
‘The problem is that China’s expanding fishing fleet is depleting the world’s oceans in the very same waters where our vessels operate. Even worse, the unsustainable fish they catch ends up in our market,’ Europêche president Javier Garat asserted.
‘On top of that, the EU is granting tariff derogations to these products without any reason or merit, other than the low price. This has to stop,’ he commented, adding that this will grant zero duty access to more than 900,000 tonnes of imported seafood, compared to 831,000 tonnes under the previous regulation.
According to Europêche, the Council could also have taken a strong stance regarding the sustainability of the ATQ system, as while the Commission builds its latest EU fisheries policies proposals under an imperative to tackle a climate and biodiversity crises, resulting in an increasing array of rules and restrictions applying to EU vessels – the EU continues to give free market access for foreign seafood under the ATQ system without adhering to the fundamental principles of sustainability, reciprocity and mutual benefit.
‘This paradoxical approach not only undermines the coherence of the proposed policies but also exposes a critical loophole, allowing a lack of accountability in ensuring that global seafood imports align with the sustainability objectives championed within EU borders,’ a Europêche representative commented.
In 2022 an external study was undertaken on autonomous tariff quotas’ sustainability, but no impact assessment was conducted for this new regulation to check whether ATQs supplies are coherent with the current EU policy initiatives on sustainable sourcing and trade. No sustainability criteria was added to the new proposal.
‘While the EU Commission initially proposed a two-year period regulation to integrate some sustainability rules as soon as possible, the Council went back to the usual three-year implementation period,’ Europêche managing director Daniel Voces pointed out.
‘European trade policy is our most powerful weapon to achieve fair competition and the promotion of core principles such as sustainability and social fairness in the field of fisheries. Including sustainability in the ATQ system is paramount to safeguard EU’s own fishing interests.’
Regarding the new quotas, hake, flat fish and tuna loins are of particular concern for the EU fleet.
Flatfish quotas in the EU are abundant and absolutely no shortage in raw material occurs. There was no need for the extra supply to the European market and no justification for maintaining an ATQ of 7500 tonnes. Likewise, the Ukrainian war is affecting the commercialisation of Pacific and Argentine hake, for which the 40,000-tonne ATQ mainly benefits (at 95%) China’s production, was no longer necessary.
Europêche sees a real need for decreasing the 35,000-tonne quota for tuna loins, which hits the European fleet hard, as China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam benefit and receive a 98% allocation of tuna loin quotas.
These countries are at the top of the Europêche list for criticism, as these nations do not respect minimum global standards, and are far from EU advanced rules on management and control of fishing activities, working conditions, health and sustainability of resources.
‘It’s to be noted that Vietnam was yellow-carded in 2017, still in force at present, and it still can enjoy duty-free treatment. Likewise, the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries also heavily criticized flagged Chinese vessels for IUU fishing,’ Daniel Voces said, commenting that on the market side, the ATQ quota for tuna loins is exhausted on the first days of January each year, namely on January 4th in 2023.
This massive entrance of low standard, cheap raw material creates a price distortion, preventing the European fleet from selling its products into the European Union.
‘It is not only the fleet which raised concerns against it. The vast majority of stakeholders within the EU advisory councils for the market and the long-distance fleet advocated to suppress the ATQs for products originating from China, including tuna loins, considering China’s link to IUU fishing and serious labour abuse. West African ACP countries, long-term partners of EU and whose canneries work with EU flagged vessels, also called for a progressive reduction of the tuna loins ATQs,’ he said.
Javier Garat added that ‘The 2024-2026 regulation on ATQs was adopted by the Council three months after the proposal from the Commission, which shockingly has not been published at any point of the negotiation. This has never happened and cannot happen. Transparency has been put aside during this process, and with it the principles of democracy, accountability, public participation and trust.’