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EU threatens Thailand with fish product ban

The EU gave Tuesday (21 April) a "yellow card" over illegal fishing to Thailand, one of the EU’s main suppliers of cheap fish products.

"As a result of a thorough analysis and a series of discussions with Thai authorities since 2011, the Commission has denounced the country's shortcomings in its fisheries monitoring, control and sanctioning systems and concludes that Thailand is not doing enough," said the EU commission in a statement.

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A procedure of dialogue is now open with Thailand, which has six months to take measures or face a EU ban of its products.

"As a minimum, control and monitoring measures and enforcement measures should come into place," said EU fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella at a press conference in Brussels.

If Thai authorities are not cooperative enough, the EU will "move to further drastic measures like trade sanctions," he said.

Under its 2010 regulation on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the EU asks that Thailand "certify the origin and legality of the fish, thereby ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products".

Thailand is one of EU’s biggest importer countries, supplying mainly shrimps, prawns or canned tuna.

Some 146,000 tons of Thai fisheries products were imported into the EU last year, for a total amount of €642 million.

The EU is Thailand’s third market for fishery products after the US and Japan.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and WWF "welcomed the European Commission’s warning".

"Thai authorities exert very little control over their fishing vessels, with many activities illegally damaging fish stocks and the marine environment," said Steve Trent, EJF’s executive director in the statement.

"This is linked to some of the most exploitative and inhuman working conditions documented anywhere," he added.

In a recent report, EFJ estimated that about 70,000 "undocumented illegal workers", many of them Burmese, work in the fishing industry.

The EU, however, made no reference to reports of slavery and violence used in illegal fishing in Thailand.

"Our rules on illegal fishing do not address working conditions on-board fishing vessels," a EU commission press officer wrote EUobserver in an email.

"However, we believe that improvements in the fisheries control system will also improve the control of labour conditions on-board fishing vessels," she wrote, adding that other commissioners "are working on the issues of human trafficking and slave labour in Thailand".

Meanwhile the EU cleared South Korea and the Philippines after other "yellow card" procedures started in 2013 and 2014.

"The two fishing nations have carried out appropriate reforms of their legal systems and are now equipped to tackle illegal fishing," said the EU commission in a statement.

This decision gave rise to mixed reactions.

The delisting of Korea and the Philippines "is further evidence of the positive and motivating incentive for states to adopt measures to stop illegal fishing," said the EJF, Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and WWF in their statement.

But Green MEP Linnea Engström said "the decision to let South Korea and the Philippines off the hook and rescind their yellow cards is premature and a mistake".

"It seems the Commission is more concerned about maintaining good relations with Korea as a trading partner," she said in a statement.

Unreported and illegal fishing account for 19 percent of the reported value of catches worldwide, according to EU commission figures. It represents an annual €10 billion market.

This article was updated on Wednesday 22 Aprill to include a EU Commission statement on slave about in Thailand.

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