The 4th World Conference of Canned Seafood, held in Vigo (Spain), brought together more than 300 representatives of the sector from 22 countries, including ACP countries such as Kenya, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius.
The organiser, ANFACO (Spanish canning and processing industry organisation), recalled that the canning sector is a global industry and, in that context, competition should take place on a level playing field where all operators comply with ‘the most advanced standards’ in terms of health and hygiene, respect for environmentally sustainable fishing practices, social protection and decent working conditions.
In their view, international trade negotiations should contribute to establishing such a level playing field. They took the example of the current negotiations with the Philippines for the access to the GSP+ scheme: they feel that it is crucial that the Philippines, as a sine qua non condition for accessing the GSP+ scheme, should ratify the international agreements for the protection of workers’ rights and elimination of child labour. More generally, the industry requested that tuna should be considered a ‘sensitive product’, rather than a ‘bargaining chip’ in all trade negotiations.
The Galician Minister of Fisheries made some concluding remarks in which she argued that working ‘in collaboration with the industry’ is the only way leading to success: ‘if this had been in previous cases, like the FPA negotiations with Mauritania, or the negotiations with Papua New Guinea, better results would have been achieved’. This echoed the demand of the European canning industry for the establishment, as part of the reform of the European Fisheries Policy, a specific advisory committee for trade and marketing issues, as a way ‘to improve the communication between the industry and the European Commission’.
The potential GSP+ accession of important Asian tuna-producing countries, like the Philippines, will undoubtedly further erode ACP tuna-producing countries’ preferences in access to the EU market, increasing competition between ACP producers and countries where production costs are lower for a variety of reasons, including economies of scale, which are difficult to achieve for ACP small island states. In some cases, it has been argued that social and environmental production standards are also lower, and where that is the case, the call by the canning industry to establish a more level playing field by promoting high social and environmental sustainability standards is welcome. However, ACP countries should ensure that EU support is provided so that they can meet such higher standards, and regain some of the competitiveness that may be lost through preference erosion.