Goodbye, Thai seafood, your love affair with Europe may soon end, and here’s why

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By Matt Rusling

The EU has threatened to slap  sanctions on Thailand’s fishing industry if it doesn’t clean up its act, but one leading expert said the timeframe is too short to make any real changes.

The EU last week threatened to ban imports of seafood caught in Thai waters, as the world’s 3rd largest seafood exporter catches much of its fish illegally, using unregistered boats in an industry that offers little transparency about where the seafood comes from.

The EU, which buys vast quantities of Thai seafood, has given Thailand’s military government six months to comply, but that’s a tall order and will require much bureaucratic maneuvering to register fishing vessels, and implement compliance measures.

Politically and economically the Thai government will attempt to comply but the timeframe is perhaps too short for it to satisfactorily clean up the industry before sanctions are imposed, Robert Dayley, author of the book “Southeast Asia in the New International Era,” told Borderless News.

Thailand was warned in 2011 but has done little to address illegal fishing practices, being distracted by all the ongoing political instability affecting actual governance.

Now some Thai officials have mentioned using dictatorial powers under Article 44 of the post-coup constitution – which concentrates the judicial, legislative and executive powers into the hands of the military junta – to somehow miraculously  manage the Thai fishing fleet by decree.

But the pervasiveness of illegal fishing, decades of lax enforcement, and underdeveloped systems to properly register and regulate catches is more important to the result than wielding dictatorial powers, Dayley said.

There is no question though that the EU threat is producing a major incentive on Thai authorities to come into compliance. South Korea faced a similar EU threat and made changes to avoid full sanctions. The capacity of the Thai government rarely matches that of South Korea’s so it remains to be seen if Thailand’s ruling junta will prove able to stave off sanctions, he said.

Dayley noted the particular standards set by the EU in 2010 relate only to the environmental consequences of illegal fishing.

“The EU is demonstrating that a large demand market can force changes on suppliers to adopt greener practices. They are telling Asian fish exporters that European consumers demand to know the source of their fish and expect it to be legally caught and properly monitored,” he said.

The environmental aims are bringing needed attention to the human rights issues and proving to be a positive spillover in terms of cleaning up many reprehensible labor practices in Thailand’s fishing industry, he contended.

 

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