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Fair Competition Needed

by the Fish Site Editor
24 June 2010, at 1:00am

EU - Fish imports play a crucial role in supplying the European market, yet fisheries and aquaculture are strategic sectors that do not lend themselves to a purely free-trade approach, believes the European Parliaments Fisheries Committee.

In a draft resolution adopted on earlier this week, MEPs say that imports should meet the same standards as European-produced fish and fishery products should be classified as "sensitive" in trade talks.

The resolution on the EU fisheries import regime, drafted by Alain Cadec (EPP, FR), is intended to contribute to the debate on the upcoming reform of the common fisheries policy.

Imports meet 60 per cent of EU demand, acknowledges the resolution. However, Europe needs to retain "environmentally sustainable and economically viable fishery and aquaculture sectors" to help preserve the cultural identity of the regions concerned, provide jobs, and supply safe, good-quality food.

Market liberalisation is already having a damaging impact on the local economy in certain regions, which are unable to find their own markets. Moreover, the massive influx of imports in an environment of unfair competition could influence the eating habits of the Europeans, who in a time of crisis could turn to cheaper and lower-quality products, says the committee.

Trade and customs policy

Reasonable, adjustable customs protection should continue to be a legitimate instrument to regulate imports, argue MEPs. It is tariff protection that gives meaning to the preferences granted to developing countries.

The Fisheries Committee believes that responsibility for leading the EU's trade talks on fishery and aquaculture products should be transferred from the Trade Commissioner to the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. It also demands that fishery and aquaculture products be treated as sensitive products in the WTO’s talks on gradual tariff reduction. The Commission should ensure that any agreement on subsidies in the fisheries sector does not place European producers at a competitive disadvantage.

Strict environmental and social standards

One of the key aims of fisheries policy should be to ensure that imports meet the same standards as EU production in every respect: environmental, social, health and quality. Agreements granting trade preferences should include credible mechanisms for monitoring whether environmental and social commitments are met and allow for preferences to be suspended or withdrawn. The Commission is asked to use all the tools available to ensure that the main importing countries comply with the basic international labour law.

Better informed consumers would make different choices

Convinced that European consumers would often make different choices if they were better informed about the true nature of products on sale (their origin and production or catch conditions), MEPs call for stringent and transparent criteria for quality, traceability and labelling. They also demand a vigilant approach to products from new, particularly intensive, types of aquaculture and call for a critical study of the health implications.

Lastly, the Fisheries Committee repeats its call for an urgent revision of the outdated common market organisation in fishery products, so that it contributes to guaranteeing earnings in the sector, ensuring market stability and increasing the added value of European products.

The resolution was adopted by the committee unanimously and comes before the full Parliament in July.

the Fish Site Editor