The EU warned Thailand on Tuesday (7 June) to take “swift and determined” action against illegal fishing, or risk a European ban on its fish exports.
Two top officials from the European Commission, the EU’s executive, made the plea in a letter to Thai Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan that was seen by AFP.
The officials said that talks in Bangkok next month between the EU and Thailand “will be a crucial opportunity for Thailand to present robust measures” to fight illegal fishing and labour abuses.
“In the absence of such progress, further action by the European Commission cannot be excluded,” said the letter signed by the EU’s Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella and Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen.
Thailand is the world’s third largest exporter of seafood — a status that rights groups say is achieved through illegal overfishing and a reliance on low-paid trafficked workers from neighbouring countries.
In April, the European Union renewed a “yellow card” warning to Thailand, threatening to ban all seafood exports unless the military government tackled rampant illegal fishing and labour abuses among its fleets.
This followed a visit by EU officials to the kingdom in January to assess whether a ban should go ahead, a move that could cost Thailand up to $1 billion in lost revenue.
The junta government of General Prayut Chan-ocha has struggled to revive the kingdom’s slumping economy and is desperate to avoid any costly sanctions on the vital sector.
Senior MEPs have warned the military junta ruling Thailand that the country must return to “free and fair elections” or risk the future of all EU-Thailand relations.
Chan-ocha is also facing a major test of his international credibility with a referendum scheduled for 7 August on a proposed new constitution for the country – theoretically to be followed by elections in 2017 – which has been widely criticised as leaving the military with sweeping powers.
A previously-mooted Free Trade Agreement between Bangkok and Brussels was abandoned after the military seized power in 2014 from democratically-elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The military junta in Thailand has gone on a last-ditch offensive to clean up its fishing industry ahead of a vital EU decision on whether to ban its exports over abuses of its fishing stocks and fleets.
In May, recoginising the threat of a ban from by the EU on its fishing exports, the Thai government announced a string of measures under the programme entitled “Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing” (PMSA).
The move brings in inspection measures which the Thai government hopes will prevent entry to their waters and harbours of foreign-flagged vessels engaged in illegal fishing.
Some 27 ports only have been designated for foreign vessels – 15 for foreign commercial ships, 12 for smaller ones from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia.
48 hours notice is required to dock. Officers may inspect their catch, and electronic monitoring systems will be in place to ensure traceability in the fish supply system.
“Thailand’s accession to the PSMA will enhance the control over foreign-flagged fishing vessels and prevent the importation of IUU fish into Thailand. It will also lead to broader and more effective cooperation between Thailand and other state Parties to the Agreement on information sharing to combat IUU fishing,” said the Thai Ambassador to Italy – where the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is based.