The EU’s reliance on imports in its fish market continues to grow, reaching 62% in 2010. However, for white fish the import dependency is 89% from capture fisheries, and exceeds 91% when aquaculture products are included. This is one of the key findings in the annual publication of the European Fish Importers and Processors association, AIPCE-CEP.
In reaction to concerns expressed by several stakeholders, including the European Parliament, the EU catching industry, NGOs, and others, about the standards of fish imports, AIPCE-CEP ‘strongly refutes negative inference about products sourced from outside the EU. As can be seen from the major reliance on imports, the acceptance by the market of these products is universal, because they meet or surpass all relevant standards, provide the market with what it asks for and offer choices that would not otherwise be available’. AIPCE-CEP highlights the fact that there is an ongoing debate as to whether the EU should set standards for voluntary labelling schemes (looking at environmental, social, and ethical production methods), insisting that there is no need for further regulation because already ‘a number of these schemes have been widely adopted throughout the industry, not just in Europe but on a global basis, applying to wild capture fisheries and aquaculture’.
Regarding ongoing reforms in fisheries legislation, AIPCE emphasises that, together with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and Common Market Organisation (CMO) reforms, ‘the Control regulation and the Food Information Regulation (FIR) are creating considerably greater need for the transfer of information throughout the supply chain on the origin, sustainability and processing of fish … But any new requirements must add real consumer value and not just increase cost and complexity, or worse still, lead to confusion and mixed messages about what is truly sustainable’.
Finally, it needs to be noted that figures provided by the AIPCE-CEP publication show the important role played by some ACP countries as sources of supplies for white fish, including Namibia and South Africa for hake, and Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya for Nile perch. However, the main sources of white fish are now China and Vietnam. If China has become a leading supplier, it is due particularly to its processing activities – China’s customs regulations require that any imported fish destined for primary processing and re-export must be re-designated as of Chinese origin.
There are currently a significant number of EU fisheries stakeholders – notably the European Parliament which has co-decision powers for future EU legislation on access conditions for fish imports – which are asking for environmental and social standards to be developed. The development of these standards would represent an important challenge for ACP fish-exporting countries, and may indeed increase costs and complexity. But they could also provide an opportunity to promote the environmental and social production qualities of ACP products, and give ACP fish products a comparative advantage over some other suppliers. Such issues need careful attention by interested ACP countries.