The EU has not made any decision about whether to ban fish exports from Thailand, the Thai foreign ministry said on Monday (23 May), clarifying comments made by its deputy prime minister that Bangkok had been given more time to end illegal fishing.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had said the European Union had given Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, a further six months to curb illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, more than a year after Brussels threatened Bangkok with a ban.
The ministry said in a statement that Prawit had “merely stated” the EU had not reached a decision on whether to give Thailand a “red card”, effectively banning its fish exports.
The EU has extended its ‘yellow card’ warning to Thailand over persistent abuses in its fishing industry.
“Thus Thailand still has time to work on this matter before such a decision will be made and Thailand reaffirms its commitment to continue working to tackle the problem,” it said.
Thailand’s fishing industry employs more than 300,000 people, many of them migrant workers from neighbouring countries who are often subject to ill-treatment.
The industry’s reputation has been tarnished by instances of human trafficking to meet manpower demand, forced labour and violence.
The EU gave Thailand a “yellow card” – or warning – in April 2015 for failing to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing catch entering the supply chain and ending up in seafood exports to Europe. The warning required Thailand to clean up in six months or face a trade ban (“red card”).
A spokesman for the European Commission confirmed that no formal decision had yet been taken and said the next round of talks would take place in Bangkok in July.
A Thai team visited Brussels last week to discuss progress. Since receiving the EU warning, Thailand has instigated new licence and monitoring systems for fishing vessels, the director
general of the Thai Fisheries Department, Adisorn Promthep, told Reuters last week in Brussels.
Today 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted or fully exploited, to the extent that without urgent measures, we may be the last generation to catch food from the oceans, writes Linnéa Engström.
Bangkok has also tightened regulations and imposed limitations on the catch, Adisorn said.
The EU yellow card had been a “wakeup call” to deal with an obsolete fisheries law, he added.
Authorities were also making more regular checks on vessels and demanded employers give workers written contracts, he said. That was to prevent labour abuses and human traffickers selling people on to boats, Adisorn said.
Thailand, the world’s third-largest exporter of seafood, faces the risk of a ban after the European Union gave it a ‘yellow card’ in April 2015 for failing to clamp down on problems in its fishing industry.
The Thai government said it has introduced new laws to avert an EU ban. Bangkok said it has completed “70 percent of the task” set out by the EU, after having registered most of its fishing vessels and caught groups suspected of human trafficking in the fishing sector.
This was not enough to convince EU authorities, who maintained their 'yellow card' in April 2016.
International concerns over illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in Thailand have arisen against a tense domestic political background.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the Thai military deposed the democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
The government has promised a lengthy process of constitution-drafting before any return to elections in 2017 at the earliest.
A referendum over the new constitution is scheduled on 7 August. However, the EU is concerned about the sweeping powers the potential constitution will grant to the military, plus restrictions on the rights of free speech and protest and a free media during the campaign.
Nearly 20 EU ambassadors in Bangkok have confronted the military junta with their fears over the country’s forthcoming referendum on a new constitution.
- 7 August 2016: Promised date from military junta for a referendum on the draft constitution.
- Mid-2017: Promised date for national elections.