Through the negotiation of a comprehensive EPA, ACP Pacific island members are seeking access to European markets for their fresh and chilled tuna products, with a provision for global sourcing. According to some observers, this would give a boost to fresh/frozen longline tuna operations, creating a significant number of jobs. This would mainly benefit small island states that do not have canneries or processing facilities. It was reported that the EU promised this could be considered positively in the context of the comprehensive EPA.
But some feel that Pacific ACP (PACP) countries might be losing out if such a deal were to be agreed. In an interview published in December 2012 in Islands Business, the Director of the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA) gives his opinion that PACP countries may end up with an EPA that provides global sourcing for fresh/chilled fish products, but, on the other hand, will have to bear disproportionate costs of compliance with a variety of requirements, such as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, to access the EU market: ‘In the end, we will have market access that has no real value.’
Another regulation that the director considers to be a non-tariff barrier to trade is the EU illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) regulation. Most Pacific islands have no competent authority to deliver catch certificates proving the legality of the fish catches, which means that, de facto, they cannot comply with the IUU regulation requirements. Therefore, they cannot supply Pacific island processors with legally caught fish for export to the EU markets. The PNA director highlights that, in some cases, the costs of setting up a competent authority would exceed some Pacific islands’ national GDP.
The director also argues that, if the longline fleets that currently operate in Pacific island waters were fully domesticated in the Pacific islands, they would get enough originating fish, without needing a global sourcing derogation: ‘We can maximise the benefits from our tuna resources if we own and control the vessels that harvest the tuna, own the production plants that process and [add value to] our tuna and own the marketing and retailing platforms that distribute our tuna products in world markets.’
The PNA director is also worried that, while the interim EPA did not include any fishing access rights, ‘in the haste to get global sourcing for fresh and chilled tuna products’ some PACP states are ready to grant the requested 5% of the total access rights to the region’s tuna resources to EU fleets.
This raises the point that, until now, in the bilateral access agreements signed between the EU and some PACP countries, the EU refuses to apply tuna fisheries management measures adopted through Pacific island arrangements, namely the Palau Arrangement and the Nauru Agreement, and challenges regional fisheries partnership agreements proposed by Pacific countries: ‘It is intriguing that some PACPs are prepared to sacrifice fishing access rights in exchange for global sourcing, for clearly overstated benefits.’
Obtaining a derogation to the rules of origin – such as global sourcing – so that all fish caught in their waters can be considered of origin under some conditions, is a long-standing request from many ACP fish producing countries. However, this may not be conducive to the development or the protection of locally based fleets. As pointed out in the case of the Pacific, if longline fishing fleets – which are less capital intensive than purse seiners and therefore easier to invest in for many Pacific islanders – were domesticated, such global derogation would not be needed, as fish caught by these local fleets would automatically qualify for origin. In addition, if during EPA negotiations, Pacific islands finally give away 5% of their access rights to EU fleets, this is another element which will perpetuate the fact that exploitation of tuna in the Pacific will continue, largely by foreign interests. This seems to contradict the will expressed by the Pacific islands in tuna regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), that they want to develop their own fishing capacity.