This week the European Parliament has taken another step in the opening of the negotiations of the future EU-Thailand Association and Cooperation Agreement, which together with the final ratification of the free trade agreement with Mercosur, is a must on the bloc’s trade agenda European. Specifically, the Foreign Affairs Committee will deliver the report that will accompany the talks with the Asian country this Wednesday. In this document, at the initiative of the popular MEP Millán Mon, two amendments were introduced that urges treating canned fish and shellfish as “sensitive products” in the talks with the Asian country, as well as conditioning any agreement to the realization of ” rigorous sustainability impact studies and detailed analysis of potential economic, social and environmental repercussions”. The survival of the Spanish canning industry, with special weight in Galicia, and the tuna fleet, which happens to be one of the most advanced in the world, depends on all of the above.
But what, exactly, is at stake? Millán Mon gives a clue, in statements to ‘La Información’, when he points out that “tuna conservation is very labor intensive and creates a lot of employment” and adds that “Galicia is the leading producer region in Europe for canned tuna “. Even more important, Spain happens to be one of the main exporters of tuna only behind, precisely, Thailand (17.73% market share) and, in direct competition, with China, which maintains a share similar to that of Spain, around 8% of the world market. Further behind Ecuador and Taiwan, according to official statistics such as that of the FAO.
Regarding the potential of the Spanish canning industry, in its last annual report corresponding to 2022, the employers’ association of the Anfaco Cecopesca sector estimated last year a production of 305,403 tons (sardines, tuna, mackerel, octopus, squid…) for an amount of 1,745 million euros. More than 60% were conserved from tunas (albacore, light tuna). An activity that exported a volume of 222,290 tons (1,260.87 million euros, in value). Of all this amount, 55.1% were tuna (skipjack tuna, minced tuna, light tuna, light tuna loins and other whole tuna): about 743.31 million euros. This industry directly employed more than 20,000 people last year, the majority (more than 11,000) in Galicia.
“Now the European Commission will expectantly attend the formation of the new Thai government, since democratic issues are very important. Thailand is a very large country, large in size, with a lot of coast and factories,” says Roberto Alonso, general secretary of Anfaco. – Cecopesca who adds that “in Southeast Asia, neither environmental nor labor standards are similar to European ones.” In this sense, Alonso is in favor of “total exclusion of tuna” from trade negotiations with this country, of which he assures that “there is no reliable authority or legislation, here in Europe audits are constant in all aspects as in the fiscal, labor… There are also great professionals”. In this regard, Millán Mon recalls that “we have also insisted that the European Commission carry out a preliminary study of the economic impact of the future trade agreement.”
Winners and losers
In the Opinion of Gonzalo Rodríguez, Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), BELIEVES That “Spain Must Make Its Weight And Demand That No No No No No No No No Number GET THE CANS OR OTHER TYPES OF PRODUCTS WHOSE ADVANTAGE Competitive This Labor and environmental ‘Dumping’, as well as the lack of compliance with European standards”. For this expert in fishing economics, “we must take into account the development strategies to be adopted and how they affect production systems.”
For Rodríguez, “just as Thailand is going to negotiate not to satisfy theoretical models, but rather according to its development interests, Europe must do so looking for the necessary stocks, intelligent specialization in less advanced regions.” In any case, he believes that Europe has the capacity to unite all the different interests of its member states and recalls the European Commission’s commitment to “reindustrialization” after the pandemic and “smart specialization”. For this reason, he urges reaching “pragmatic agreements that allow approximations that are never going to be perfect or be exempt from a certain level of commitment.” In any case, he calls for taking into account the weight of activities such as fishing in Spain with respect to other areas of Europe. In other words, don’t sacrifice everything to sell more Volvo or Mercedes cars.
“The effect on Galicia would be devastating”
In the Spanish tuna fleet, grouped mainly in the Organization of Associated Producers of Large Freezer Tuna Vessels (OPAGAC) made up of 48 boats that catch 380,000 tons of media per year (8% of world production), concern abounds. For its managing director, Julio Morón, “the effect on Galicia, in particular, would be devastating” and he adds that “Thailand is the largest tuna producer in the world and that it enters Europe through a free trade agreement is going to devastate the market”. In this sense, he explains that this country “is supplied by Asian fleets where the conditions are what they are in terms of both social and environmental sustainability.”
Morón refers to the criticism of the respect for human rights on these boats, described by NGOs as fishing boats. Many of these cases registered in Southeast Asian fleets. In this sense, they recall from OPAGAC, European imports of tuna from this region already represent 50% when in 2012 they barely accounted for 5%.
Morón laments this “unfair competition” and points out that “if we saw our efforts recognized by the markets for a market niche that recognizes quality, but if it turns out that everyone enters without any control…”. A reference to the report published by the European Court of Auditors this year, in which it highly praises the work of inspection and customs control of Spain in reference to fishery products compared to the performance of other member countries. MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) to certify that their catches were made sustainably and in accordance with European regulations.