EU import ban could cost 30 billion baht

Thailand warned yesterday it risked losing up to THB30 billion a year if the European Union makes good on a threat to ban fish imports from the kingdom unless it does more to halt illegal fishing.

The world’s third largest seafood producer was left red-faced Tuesday when Brussels issued it with a “yellow card” for failing to clamp down on illegal fishing, saying fisheries monitoring, controls and punishments were inadequate and had to be brought up to international standards.

A “red card” and eventual import ban of fish would follow if the kingdom failed to clean up its fishing industry within six months, the EU Commission warned.

Thai Agriculture Minister Petipong Puengbun Na Ayudhya told reporters Wednesday that a ban could cost the country up to THB30 billion a year in European sales – a shortfall the economically shaky nation can ill afford.

“I am confident that our private sector, fishermen and our fisheries operators are aware that if we fail to solve this problem our fishing industries will be faced with several problems,” he said.

A deputy commerce minister said the Commerce Ministry would find other markets in Eastern Europe and Thailand’s neighbors to replace the loss of the EU market, the world’s largest.

In Washington D.C., a Congressional subcommittee heard testimony about Thailand’s use of slave labor.

“As has been reported for years, the Thai fishing industry is rife with forced labor, both on the high seas and within seafood processing and packing plants,” Mark Lagon, a former ambassador for trafficking in persons, said, according to the Associated Press

Thailand’s fishing industry accounts for 40 percent of the country’s food exports and is a mainstay of the economy. Its prawn industry is the world’s largest.

But its image has been battered by allegations of ships using human trafficking victims and slave labor, as well as taking illegal catches – practices critics say successive governments have turned a blind eye to.

Thailand’s junta, which took over last May in a coup and has vowed to kickstart the kingdom’s flagging economy, has said it is determined to combat illegal fishing, including a plan to role out widespread GPS devices on fishing vessels.

Petipong said he was confident Bangkok would meet the EU’s six month deadline, adding that the country’s rubber stamp parliament had already passed a new bill giving greater powers to harbour and labour officials to monitor trawlers.

But the bill will not become law for another 60 days, something Petipong said the junta might need to fast track if needs be. “I think we can beat the 180-day deadline,” he said.

In June the US State Department downgraded Thailand to its lowest ranking in a report on human trafficking, highlighting abuses in the fisheries industry among others.

On Tuesday Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said it was “deeply disappointed” by the EU’s yellow card, accusing Brussels of ignoring the steps the junta had taken in the last six months to tackle illegal fishing.

Belize, Guinea, Cambodia and Sri Lanka were all hit with EU fishing import bans in the past but remedial efforts by Belize means it has now been taken off the blacklist.

Story: AFP

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