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MEP's Debate Imports, Wages And Quality

EU - How to ensure fair income for fishermen in a market where production costs are rising and sale prices stagnating? How can European producers compete with third countries where labour costs are considerably lower? These issues were debated last week at a public hearing on the common organisation of the market in fishery and fish farming products.

"Fish prices have stagnated in recent years despite skyrocketing costs of fuel. This means that in order to cover expenses, fishermen need to fish more, which is causing severe overfishing," said Francisco Teixeira (Fresh Fisheries and Producers' Organisation, Port of Marin, Spain). Mr Teixeira explained that his organisation, as most others, have also to invest considerably to keep up with new technologies and to ensure quality.

Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, IR) noted that fishermen also have difficulties finding investors, as banks are not prepared to invest in businesses which offer no guarantee of returns. "We were led to believe that there would be a new regulation on common market organisation in 2011. But now we are told it will not happen before 2012," regretted the MEP.

Several MEPs also stressed the need to address the problem of increasing prices for end-consumers, despite the stagnating - and even decreasing - gains for fishermen.

Most speakers stressed that, under the constraints of EU legislation, fishermen are finding it more difficult than ever to compete with importers. Today, 60 per cent of fish consumed in the EU is imported from third countries.

Robert Stevenson from the Scottish Fish Producer Association said the EU should impose the same controls on imported products as on domestic ones. He also stressed the need to inform consumers in order to increase the attractiveness of EU produced fish products, through better labelling and nutritional and environmental information.

Isabella Lövin (Greens/EFA, SE) agreed that the EU should look into opportunities for environmentally sustainable fishing. She noted that demand for "environment-friendly" products was growing significantly in countries such as Sweden and Germany. Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE) and Jarosław Leszek Wałesa, for their part, insisted on the need for reinforced requirements on traceability.

Juan Manuel Vieites Baptista de Sousa (Spanish Association of Canning Producers) added that, according to a recent study, 60 per cent of canned tuna originated from markets that do not meet European standards. He also voiced doubts as to whether the EU properly assessed the real consequences for its markets before concluding trade deals and setting tariffs with third countries.

The representative from the Commission reminded MEPs that the EU could not impose European environmental rules on third countries, but that international rules nonetheless applied.

Jacques Pinchon from the French Fishermen Association "Pêcheurs Manche Atlantique" agreed that the rules were not the same for European fishermen and those of third countries.

“We cannot compete because we cannot pay a fisherman 20 dollars a day,” he said, referring to a study which showed that the cost of a German fisherman's working day was eight times higher than that of a Senegalese. Ms Fraga also evoked the dire situation of fishermen in third countries, where employment conditions are akin to slavery, she said. She asked the Commission whether this problem could be solved within the EU's trade policy.

Joao Ferreira (GUE, PT) added that the revision of the common market organisation should include a guarantee of minimum income to European fishermen. He also called for a rise in the level of funding for the common market organisation, arguing that insufficient public support leads to very limited results.

A full record of the hearing is available online (see the link below). The vote on Mr Cadec's report in the committee is expected in June.

the Fish Site Editor

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