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Lack of Namibian control over its resource value chain affects its benefits from fisheries

11 January 2013

An interview with Ms Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati

Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati is the National Coordinator of the Namibia Trade Forum (NTF). The NTF is a public–private partnership body established by the Namibian government in order to strengthen the collaboration between the government and the private sector on issues related to international trade and investment, including in the fisheries sector. The Namibia Trade Forum also informs Namibian producers about the trends in international trade and investments, and the challenges and opportunities they present.

Q: In the current debate on postponing the deadline for the signing of an EPA from 2014 to 2016, most observers insist that the most important thing would be to have ‘development-friendly partnership’. What does this mean in the case of Namibian fisheries? 

The Economic Partnership Agreement is supposed to be based on three pillars: regional integration, development and market access. But in reality, discussions focus almost solely on market access, whilst regional integration and particularly development are given lip service.

In the case of fisheries, to have a ‘development-friendly partnership’ would mean first and foremost to help develop local value-adding processing. Currently, we mainly export raw hake to Spain, where I’m told it helps maintain several thousand jobs. Imagine if these jobs could be created here!

But development of such a processing industry is not favoured by the current conditions offered by the EU under the EPA negotiations, particularly regarding the rules of origin for fisheries products.

Currently, these rules require that fish qualifies as ‘originating’ only if it is obtained within Namibia territorial waters – 12 nautical miles – or by either local or EU vessels.

But we have a problem here as, usually, we don’t fish within the 12-mile zone for conservation reasons, as it is the zone where many fish reproduce and spend the early stages of their life cycle. Most of our fish, like horse mackerel and hake, swim outside the 12-mile zone …

What Namibia is asking, in line with our Constitution, is for all the fish caught in the 200 miles of our exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and landed in Namibian ports for processing, to qualify for origin. The EU accepts this only in cases of leased or chartered vessels by Namibian operators, but where EU operators have been given the right of first refusal. But non-EU operators are sometimes cheaper or give better conditions for these chartering operations! Why do we have to take the most costly option first?

Another obstacle for developing processed products is that we can’t benefit from cumulation with South Africa for fish products. So, for example, we can’t make canned pilchard with tomatoes if we have to import tomatoes from South Africa – that’s an important obstacle to developing value-added local products.

Q: Is Namibia–EU fish trade likely to be affected by the erosion of preferences?

I don’t think preference erosion is a big issue for Namibia. Our hake is very much sought after, and is very popular on EU markets, particularly in Spain. Moreover, massive investments have been made by Spanish fishing companies with Namibian subsidiaries in Namibia’s hake sector, so the trading channels are well established, and I think it’s unlikely that these channels would be much affected by preference erosion.

What I’m more worried about is the way our hake is marketed in Europe by these companies, and whether it is done in a way that maximises our benefits and strengthens the position of Namibian hake on EU markets.

Namibian hake prices on Southern European markets are under pressure because of the economic crisis in Europe. There have also been indications that, because of the crisis, European consumers are increasingly turning to cheaper fish products, substituting higher price products, like hake, with farmed pangasius.

Q: So, what could be done?

I think marketing strategies have to be adopted so that such substitution doesn’t happen so easily, by making Namibian hake’s qualities more recognisable and appealing to European consumers.

To achieve this, we need to create a link between Namibia, where hake is produced, and the end consumer in Europe.

We also need to target niche markets, where our high quality products can fetch better prices.

But unfortunately, we do not control that part of the chain: once the hake is out of the water and gets into Spanish companies’ hands, we don’t have much influence about how our fish is then marketed.

I think we should try and find a way to dialogue with Spanish companies that have invested in Namibia about these marketing issues, as it is in both our interests to improve the marketing of our products.

Q: Are these Spanish companies the companies that have been involved in joint ventures?

Yes, we have many Namibian–Spanish joint ventures that have been created with Spanish capital, most of which are involved in the exploitation of hake.

The most famous of them, which settled in Namibia just after our country’s independence, is Pescanova, whose Namibian subsidiary is called Novanam. It employs thousands of Namibians and has contributed in an important way to the development of economic activities in the port town of Luderitz.

However, new foreign companies are coming to Namibia to form joint ventures with local companies. In the last months, for example, a new joint venture for the exploitation of horse mackerel has been set up, involving the multinational Pacific Andes’ fishing subsidiary China Fishery Group and a local company.

This joint venture is one of the 10 newcomers in the horse mackerel fisheries, where, until now, there were only 12 fishing rights holders.

Allowing new entrants into the horse mackerel fishery has been undertaken for political considerations, to incorporate more Namibians into the sector.

To accommodate these new entrants, the overall total allowable catch (TAC) has been increased by 70,000 tonnes to 320,000 tonnes.

Obviously, the sustainability of the overall fishing pressure on this stock needs to be assessed, which will be done end of the year, when potential corrective measures for setting up next year’s TAC will be taken.

Established holders of fishing rights have been alarmed that their profitability may be negatively affected if they are allocated a smaller size of the TAC cake, because they have to share it with newcomers.

However, I feel that what may happen is that, with increased competition between a bigger number of rights holders, only those which can earn reasonable profits – because they have newer vessels, innovative strategies, etc. – will remain active. That may lead to a concentration of ownership in the hands of the most competitive companies.

One worry I have concerns the environmental sustainability of the whole operation. These vessels are huge vessels, catching enormous amounts of small pelagic, which are the basis of the marine food web.

If there is overfishing – either because the TAC has been set too high, or because some rights holders start to overfish a quota they feel is too small – then this would jeopardise the future of the whole fishery, and the livelihoods of thousands of Namibians.

In all this, what we have to look at is what the benefits will be for the Namibian population, most importantly in terms of securing long-term jobs and revenues, providing good working conditions for people fishing on board joint-venture vessels, etc.

Q: Recently there was news about a fishing deal between Namibia and Mozambique. Would such south–south cooperation provide better perspectives for a development-centred partnership?

Indeed, Namibia has signed a fisheries agreement with Mozambique, which involves each country providing a substantial fishing quota to the other. Species caught in both countries are different, and this may help to strengthen fish exports.

A quota of 35,000 tonnes of fish will be allocated to Namibia in Mozambican waters, although it’s not very clear what species are involved, who will get access to it, and under what conditions. That’s a problem with most of these fishing agreements: they are very opaque. At least, with the EU fishing agreements, you know exactly what is on the table, provided one understands the implications of the details.


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