On 6 March, the EU started negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) with Thailand, the latest in a series with ASEAN countries. The EU is currently the third largest export market for the Thai fisheries industry: including frozen and prepared shrimps, canned tuna and tuna loins, and frozen squid. Thailand has become the primary source of canned tuna for the EU markets.
On this occasion, a public consultation has been launched by the EC, including on fisheries products, “to give the EU fisheries sector the opportunity to provide information that will help the Commission establish priorities and take decisions throughout the negotiating process”. The EC questionnaire covers issues such as tariffs, rules of origin, trade facilitation, investment in the fisheries sector (including access to fishing licences) and sustainable fisheries. In other words, it focuses on those participating in the regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) in their fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing commitments to global fisheries’ governance.
On 15 March, the European tuna sector platform EUROTHON published its views regarding these EU–Thailand FTA negotiations. EUROTHON underlined the need to develop FTAs with countries “having a high level of compliance with sound governance, human rights and global environment protection”. To that end, “the level playing field that EUROTHON would seek is at least the level that third countries would need to achieve to become beneficiaries of GSP+ trade advantages.”
EUROTHON asks that tuna products for the EU will be treated sensitively and will accordingly be excluded from the EU liberalisation. Thailand should apply the EU standard preferential rules of origin for imports of fishery products into the EU: “No derogation must be granted.” Moreover, as Thailand is a member of ASEAN, which regroups all major competitors for the EU tuna industry, “it is therefore of vital importance that the EU does not grant regional cumulation to Thailand.”
Finally, EUROTHON would be in favour of including sustainability provisions (socially as well as environmentally) in FTAs to ensure a ‘level playing field’. EUROTHON also requires that Thailand correctly applies the hygiene–sanitary, IUU and traceability regulations.
Thailand processes about 25% of the world’s canned tuna, using raw materials that are sourced not only from its tuna fleet but also from a range of suppliers, including some ACP countries. Thailand has much lower production costs than ACP countries producing canned tuna, and has already become the primary supplier for the EU, without trade preferences. The successful conclusion of this FTA would further erode ACP trade preferences to access the EU market with their tuna products. This tends to show that the current EU decision making process is increasingly influenced by supply considerations – eliminating tariff barriers while developing other requirements, such as sanitary, environmental and social standards – rather than by the protection of its own tuna industry and associated activities in ACP countries. This suggests ACP countries should increasingly look at how they can adapt to these changing circumstances.