The European Union threatened to ban imports of seafood from Thailand because of concerns about unlawful fishing, a step that would hit trade of more than 600 million euros ($641 million) a year.
The European Commission said Thailand has been too lax in the international fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Thai authorities have six months to enact “a corrective tailor-made action plan” or risk an EU trade ban, said the commission, the 28-nation bloc’s regulatory arm.
“There are serious shortcomings in Thailand’s fisheries monitoring, fisheries control and sanctioning systems,” EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels. “Failure to take strong action against illegal fishing will carry consequences.”
The EU is seeking to use the size of its seafood market to prod exporting countries around the world to promote sustainable fisheries. The total value of EU imports of fish products last year was 20.7 billion euros, of which Thailand accounted for 642 million euros, or 3.1 percent, according to the commission.
The EU already prohibits imports of seafood from Cambodia, Guinea and Sri Lanka because those three countries allegedly haven’t done enough to tackle illegal fishing. The bloc last year added Belize to the European fisheries blacklist before lifting the curbs on that nation following “reforming efforts” by authorities there.
Also today, the commission withdrew warnings it had issued against South Korea and the Philippines about fishing regulation. Both countries have since improved their legal systems and are “now fully equipped to tackle illegal fishing,” Vella said.
The Thai government called the warning it received today from the commission unjustified, saying the country has made “substantial and tangible progress” in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
“Thailand is deeply disappointed at the EU’s decision,” the Thai Foreign Ministry in Bangkok said in an e-mailed statement.
Vella said the EU intends to work with Thailand to improve fishing regulation and prefers resolving the issue through dialog rather than trade restrictions.
“The burden is now on them -- on the Thai authorities -- to take corrective measures,” he said. “Analyzing what is actually happening in Thailand, we noticed that there are no controls whatsoever, there are no efforts whatsoever.”
The commission’s warning against Thailand amounts to a “yellow card” and any EU ban on Thai seafood would follow a possible “red card” against the country over its fishing regulation, according to Vella.
“It is only if, after those six months, no progress whatsoever is realized that we as the commission can then issue what we call the red card, which could then lead to trade sanctions as well,” he said.
An official at the Thai central bank warned about the damage to Thailand’s economy that would result from any EU prohibition on imports of seafood from the country.
“If they ban us, the impact will be significant at a time when our exports are not in good shape,” Don Nakornthab, the Bank of Thailand’s director for macroeconomic policy, told reporters on Tuesday in Bangkok.