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EU –Pacific relations over VDS remain tense

27 April 2014

At a meeting of the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA), it was highlighted that, “By requiring foreign fishing companies to adhere to the vessel day scheme (VDS) and setting a minimum fishing day fee – now at US$6,000 – while setting limits on days, PNA has more than tripled revenue accruing to its eight-member nations.”

The difficulties of moving away from bilateral agreements were emphasised as necessary to ensure the success of the VDS scheme. “As conceived, the VDS aims to create a seller’s market, allowing PNA members to auction their days to the highest bidders. But bilateral agreements – where fisheries and foreign ministry officials from Asian or other nations come to town every year or two to negotiate deals with their islands counterparts – have been a mainstay of Pacific fisheries for more than a generation.” The PNA Director is therefore encouraging fisheries officials to move away from bilateral fisheries access negotiations to selling days through the VDS, allowing the market to dictate the price, which he believes will push the price well above the current US$6,000-a-day benchmark.

In its latest issue, FFA Trade and Industry News highlighted that, to this end, “the status of the European fleet in relation to the PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme remains a topic of debate”, particularly as the EU vessels licensed under the EU–Kiribati FPA and endorsed by the European Parliament last November, have not formally come under the general terms and conditions of the VDS scheme. FFA legal staff are currently assisting Kiribati “with the drafting of regulations to fully incorporate the VDS into national legislation”.

In contrast, the Solomon Islands refused to renew a bilateral agreement with the EU in 2013. It is reported that Nauru has also declined to renew arrangements with the Spanish tuna operators’ organisation OPAGAC, citing the association’s refusal to agree to be bound by national laws that implement measures agreed within the PNA.

“This ongoing debate highlights the continued need for strengthening coherence and consistency associated with the VDS,” stressed FFA Trade and Industry News article. “The PNA countries themselves have identified the need for improvements to the VDS and to this end, FFA, at the request of the PNA, will manage a study of institutional design to strengthen the VDS, which will start in March.”

Editorial comment

The EU remains a modest player in the Pacific compared to other distant-water tuna fishing nations, such as the USA or Asian countries. However, the debate between the EU and Pacific Islands about the basis for access, whether through the negotiation and signing of bilateral agreements, or through Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations, has taken central stage with little progress in terms of mutual understanding. It is therefore welcomed that, as an element to improve future dialogue, the FFA (at the request of the PNA) will undertake a study to strengthen the institutional design of the VDS (a major EU concern), as well as help with the drafting of regulations to fully incorporate the VDS into Kiribati legislation (a major PNA concern).


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