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.
Thailand is the world’s third-largest fish exporter, and in 2014 its exports of fish to the EU stood at 3 billion dollars, according to the Thai Frozen Foods Association.
The regime – which took power in a military coup in May 2014 – is facing a possible total EU import ban for repeated floughting of the Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) rules imposed by Brussels.
The junta is already under a ‘yellow card’ from Brussels – meaning its progress on fighting abuses of fish stocks and supplies is under review. A decision on a ‘red card’ which would ban all Thai fish imports, is expected any day now.
Now General Prayut Chan-ocha, the military leader in Bangkok, has pledged a string of reforms in a bid to avoid such a crippling blow to the industry.
In a speech in Bangkok, Prayut conceded that his country “must admit the faults that have existed for a long time.”
And he went on to demand weekly progress reports delivered to himself personally, and to step up checks on licences and focus more on research and development.
He said, ““We especially need to focus on sustainable development in the fishing industry as well as prevent and tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU).
“All documents concerning imports and exports of seafood products will be thoroughly scanned as well as other documents such as fishing licenses.
“These documents will also need to be verified. We will emphasize on R&D, marine resources assessment, and marine resources management.”
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Prayut also seemed to suggest inspections by the EU would take place on January 20th – something not confirmed by the European Commission.
A spokeswoman told EURACTIV, “Thailand received a proposed action plan to address shortcomings. The country had 6 months to negotiate with the Commission and address its problems. This period for Thailand ended in October.
“The Commission is now analysing the outcome of these negotiations and will decide on next steps in the coming months. At this point in time no decision has been taken – neither for a deadline extension or on next steps.”
“Real signs of change and delivery on commitments by very early next year will be decisive in informing the Commission’s decision.”
According to the Thai Department of Fisheries, specific measures include a ban on Thai vessels transferring fish catches outside Thai territorial waters, a task force carrying out inspections outside Thai waters, training observers who will be then stationed on every Thai-flagged vessel that operates outside Thai waters, and more electronic monitoring of vessels greater than 60 tonnes.
The EU first introduced its IUU rules in 2010, saying such fishing “depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, puts honest fishers at an unfair disadvantage, and weakens costal communities, particularly in developing countries.”
Currently Thailand is under a ‘yellow card’ warning, whilst four countries – Cambodia, Guinea, Belize and Sri Lanka – have been handed out ‘red cards’ implanting EU import bans. Belize was later downgraded.
Comoros and Taiwan have recently been put on the ‘yellow card’ notification, whilst Ghana and Papua New Guinea were taken off it.
A ‘red card’, threatening the billions of income to one of Thailand’s biggest export industries, would gravely damage the standing of the military regime, which is attempting to write a new constitution, in a lengthy process which it promises will see a return to democracy some point in 2017.
Thailand, which was in advanced negotiations to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, has been warned that such an FTA will not be signed whilst the junta is in power, under Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s new 2015 ‘Trade for All’ policy of having labour and resource abuses taken into account.
EURACTIV revealed in November that such an FTA would “never” be passed by the European Parliament, due to the regime’s perceived treatment of labour rights, resource management and attacks on the media.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the Thai military deposed the democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
The government have promised a lengthy process of constitution-drafting before any return to elections in 2017 at the earliest.