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Tackling IUU through trade policy: The EU’s experience

07 September 2014

The European Commission (DG Mare) has recently published an overview of the state of implementation of the EU IUU regulation by member states, the European Commission and third countries. The document includes a chapter on the coherence between the IUU regulation and several other EU policies (including the development policy and food safety/health policy), a first analysis on its impacts on trade flows, and also looks at the compatibility of the IUU regulation with WTO rules.

Regarding policy coherence for development (PCD), generally, the implementation of the regulation can be seen to have positive impacts on sustainable development. However, difficulties have arisen for developing countries in terms of enforcing the catch certificate scheme, highlighting challenges in terms of effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) systems. To address these issues, technical assistance has been provided by the EU to developing countries. The report notes that this assistance “is not limited to countries that have signed FPAs”.

In terms of coherence with food safety/health policy, the study highlights that, in practice, rather than having two broadly similar reporting regimes in respect of a single fish products consignment, “the question arises as to whether the reporting procedures could somehow be combined.”

Regarding the impact of the implementation of the IUU regulation on trade, the report emphasises that the perception is that the IUU regulation has already started to change IUU operators’ practices: “this was most notable from the reduction in the number of reefers attempting to import fishery products into Las Palmas.”

The document highlights also that the IUU regulation potentially raises a number of issues in terms of the compatibility with WTO rules, including “the extent to which the catch certification scheme, possible import bans and provisions on access to ports might be considered to be technical barriers to trade”. However, the study notes that there is no discrimination of treatment between EU and third countries, and that the IUU regulation is also in line with measures taken at the international level: “Therefore, while the possibility of a challenge under WTO cannot be excluded, the Regulation itself is currently believed to be WTO compliant.”

The latter concern was also highlighted in a recent ICTSD article, on market and trade measures taken to combat IUU fishing. The article notes that “Many fishing and exporting countries… are concerned that such schemes could become unnecessary barriers to trade,” underlining that the 2013 United Nations General Assembly resolution on sustainable fisheries requested the FAO to develop guidelines and criteria relating to catch documentation schemes. At its June 2014 session, the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) further requested that these guidelines do not create unnecessary barriers to trade, and that they follow the principle of equivalence, are risk based, reliable, simple, transparent, and electronic if possible. Countries are aiming for adoption of the catch documentation guidelines at COFI’s next session.

Editorial comment

The study highlights that, in general, and taking into account the fact that the IUU regulation has only been implemented for less than 4 years, changes have already been observed: despite the challenges – particularly of the catch certification scheme – efforts from developing countries to improve MCS and to deter IUU fishing have been boosted by the implementation of the EU IUU regulation. It needs to be noted that the importance for the FAO of developing “risk-based, reliable, simple, transparent, and electronic if possible” guidelines and criteria for catch documentation schemes goes beyond ensuring that these catch certification schemes do not become unnecessary barriers to trade. Such international guidelines and criteria will be an essential tool to help gradually closing alternative markets for IUU products and make the fight against IUU fishing truly global.


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