Import tariffs must go, say EU processors

Tariffs on imports of seafood raw material into the European Union must go, said the head of the EU Fish Processors and Traders Association (AIPCE-CEP). “Measures that seek to protect EU markets from third country competition are outdated and should no longer be part of EU policy,” the AIPCE-CEP said on June 15

Today, the majority of seafood raw material imported into the EU for processing is subject to trade barriers such as import duties, Guus Pastor, president of the AIPCE-CEP, told IntraFish. Although there are exceptions, such as cod from the Barents Sea, the majority remains subject to prohibitive duties. 

Yet this is an unsustainable situation for the processors and could eventually be their death-knell, Pastor said.

Part of the reason is that the EU is not self-sufficient in seafood supply and even less in sustainable seafood supply.

The EU’s self-sufficiency rate for fishery products has tumbled to 36 percent, according to a 2009 document by the European Council. A separate report, by Ocean2012, said the EU relied on imports for 50 percent of its seafood consumption in 2007.

So even if the tariffs are aimed at protecting the European fishing industry, this is a fallacy since the EU is not able to meet its own demand — and its own products sometimes fail to meet a market due to a lack of certification, Pastor said.

“Our [first] point is that the EU isn’t self-sufficient and never will be so you’re going to need products from outside the EU,” Pastor told IntraFish.

“If we manage to do that in a good way, that we get the products that we need in the correct way and we make sure that these products are also sustainable, that means that processing companies in Europe will be able to have a normal economic profit and will thus be able to pay normal prices to the fishermen in the EU.”

On the other hand, Pastor said, if the EU tries to hinder imports, “what will happen then is that the processing industry in the EU would be in difficulty because of the lack of supply or due to high prices. Which means that the processing could disappear to other countries where you have lower costs or more labor.”

“That’s where we say, be careful, don’t put trade barriers up because you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.”

Then there is the lack of sustainable supply from EU vessels, a growing problem as the market demands more MSC-certified products.

“Even if you would want to use more EU products, we all know that there are a lot of problems with EU fishery policy, which means that a lot of EU products are not considered to be sustainable. There are not a lot of MSC-products coming from the EU, there are much more coming from outside the EU.”

The lack of sustainable seafood has already taken its toll on EU fisheries and processors, Pastor said. Dutch plaice, for instance, has lost a “lot of markets in the last years because it was not MSC-certified,” he said.

“That’s a much bigger threat than products being brought in from elsewhere. We just lost a market because people didn’t want our fish anymore. If we can show that it is sustainable, then we recover our market.”

The EU fish processing industry generated revenues of €23 billion in 2007 — making it three times bigger than the catch sector.

But removing import duties will not just benefit processors — it will also improve the prices paid to EU fishermen, thereby improving their situation, Pastor said.

“Why are prices low for EU products? It’s not just a question of competition, it’s because a lot of products are not wanted in the market. And that has to be with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) because these products are not considered to be sustainable. So we need to work in that direction and make sure we get things right. And if we can say that they are sustainable then at least there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to compete.”

The AICPE-CEP hopes its message will ring with the commission as it prepares the reform of the CFP.

“If you try to look at the whole process of CFP reform, you have to look at the total picture, the total supply chain, and not just pick something and say OK, we’re going to get rid of products which are competing then we’ll be better off,” Pastor said.

EU processing revenues in 2007 included more than €4 billion from Spain and more than €3 billion from the United Kingdom, France and Italy each.

It is a fragmented sector, consisting of nearly 4,000 companies the majority of employ at most 20 people, for total employment of around 126,000 persons, according to datat published in “Facts and figures on the Common Fisheries Policy – Basic statistical data 2010.”

Source: VASEP

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