The threat of a red card from the European Commission still hangs over Thailand’s fishing industry. Elmar Brok believes the pressure will be successful. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Elmar Brok (CDU) is chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the longest-serving MEP, having held his seat since the first elections in 1979.
He spoke with EURACTIV Germany’s Nicole Sagener.
Recently, an EU delegation reviewed the current situation in Thailand. Subsequently, the European Parliament expressed a non-binding resolution concerns about the human rights situation in Thailand. Where is the situation particularly delicate? Where have possible improvements been found?
Thailand has experienced a prolonged period of instability in the last 10 years, during which many people have been killed and injured, government and other public properties been illegally occupied, and fundamental human rights been violated.
Since the coup in 2014, we have been constantly urging Thailand to return to democracy. Democratic elections should be held without unnecessary delay and the country should again be led by a government, which reflects the result of the elections.
>>Read: MEPs condemn Thai junta
It is also essential that the framework, the constitution, which is being redrafted, will define the elections and Thailand’s governance. The early drafts sketched by the Constitution Drafting Committee in February, and the proposal draft constitution of April, which was rejected by the National Reform Council in September, were proposing a clear departure from democratic values.
It would now be important to have an open national debate in Thailand on the direction that the country takes. However, freedom of expression is not ensured and the process to draft the constitution has not been inclusive, neither regarding including political parties, nor the civil society. There are also alarming reports of arrests of activists. The EP is also in contact with the opposition.
The Commission has already issued a yellow card on the subject of illegal fishing in Thailand, and calls for a better legal framework, and efficient control systems. Has there been progress? The European Union will decide in December whether it will completely forego imports of Thai seafood. Under what conditions can the country avoid a red card?
The EU is calling for respect of international standards for fisheries controls to get rid of the practice of illegal fishing and to protect sustainable levels of fish stocks. The EU also wants Thailand to ensure decent working conditions for fishermen, who are often illegal migrant workers and vulnerable to severe exploitation by the owners of the boats.
Seafood exports are an important source of revenue for Thailand. The EU is a considerable market, without which the Thai economy would be affected. Therefore, I believe that Thailand will take the EU’s warning seriously and is willing to cooperate and make improvements.
Some measures have already been initiated, such as fishing boat registration, which in turn have led to some protests. The task for making improvements is vast, requires bold and prompt political decisions and should not be underestimated.
The EU is in active negotiations with the Thai authorities so as to ensure that the necessary improvements will be made in time. The EU is also collecting more information on the actual situation on the ground. Based on the results of the negotiations and Thailand’s decisions on necessary reforms and its actions to tackle illegal fishing the European Commission will then decide what steps it takes next or if it is in a position to lift the yellow card warning.
Some critics say that in the free trade negotiations with Thailand, the EU focuses mainly on the causes of overfishing and poor human rights, as well as the exploitation of immigrants from Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar.
The EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement negotiations have been frozen since last year due to the lack of respect for democratic principles since the military coup. The situation for respect of fundamental freedoms has also worsened at the same time.
It should also be noted that the EU-Thailand Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, negotiated, but (unsigned) given the political situation in Thailand, is covering bilateral relations more widely. The PCA Agreement will make bilateral commitments on the respect of human rights, and which has a linkage to the implementation of the future Free Trade Agreement. The European Parliament would not ratify these agreements under the present conditions.
By engaging Thailand to close trade relations with the EU, the EU, its member states, and companies, will have the possibility to address the very issues mentioned in the question.