Rules of origin issues have been discussed at a recent European Parliament Hearing on 'Traceability of fish products in the EU market’. A representative of Eurothon, the European tuna-industry body, called for the partnership agreement which allows Papua New Guinea (PNG) to export globally sourced tuna products duty-free into the European market to be suspended, arguing that PNG might become a centre from which illegally caught tuna would be exported to the EU. A representative of DG Trade disclosed that an impact-assessment evaluation study is under way. This will examine the impact of the Pacific IEPA on the EU tuna market and EU fishing and canning industry, as well as on developments in PNG and the management of fish resources in the region – including on IUU fishing. On this topic, an ATUNA report of the hearing remarked that an ‘interesting detail is that Spanish processors were recently invited by the PNG government to invest in their country. But no interest was shown. The only interest shown at the European Parliament meeting was by a Spanish fleet operator about obtaining more fishing rights. He had specifically no interest in investing in on-shore jobs for PNG people.’
The labelling of fish products was also discussed, with a view to providing the EU consumer with better information. On that topic, MEPs reiterated that, in the context of the future reformed Common Market Organisation for fisheries and aquaculture products, a clear set of sustainability criteria should be developed, to be applied to all products consumed in the EU. In particular, the EPP Group (the organiser of the hearing), called for all the trade preferences granted by the EU in respect of fishery and aquaculture products to be made strictly conditional upon the fulfilment of stringent environmental and social requirements.
In the last ten years, EU tuna-sector operators, in particular those from Spain, have invested massively in Latin American countries. A lot of the canned tuna in Spain is now supplied from pre-processed tuna coming from Ecuador, Guatemala, etc. It is therefore unlikely that the same EU companies will invest in similar processing capacity in PNG. The need for PNG to maintain a global-sourcing derogation to the rules of origin will thus remain central. Another issue to consider for Pacific ACP countries, as for other ACP fish-producing countries, is the emphasis put by the European Parliament – but also by EU Ministers and civil society – on the need for the future market policy to ensure that all fish products consumed on the EU market are traceable to environmentally and socially sustainable sources. It is of paramount importance that ACP countries look at how to address this new challenge. Indeed, ensuring further relaxation of the rules of origin would be of no value if other requirements, such as these new sustainability requirements, but also SPS regulations, cannot be met.