Will the EU finally impose sanctions on China? – EURACTIV.fr

In light of mounting evidence of abuses by Chinese vessels, politicians and industry players are calling on the Commission to wake up and ask China to apply EU rules on illegal fishing and human rights abuses.

China’s presence in international waters is not always very visible, but after the decision of the US, the world’s main economy, to take action and impose sanctions on Chinese ships, some are wondering if the EU should do the same.

“China is a prime example of a country with a significant problem with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, particularly with deep-sea fleets that operate globally.”Vanya Wolperhorst, director of the NGO Oceana, Illegal Fishing and Transparency Campaign, said.

However, despite the fact that the EU has an effective sanctions system in place to crack down on IUU fishing activities, the EU executive still does not act on this issue.

“It seems that the EU prefers to use the dialogue and sensitivity created through the blue partnership. [pour les océans] Combating IUU fishing by Chinese-flagged vessels”Mrs. Wolperhorst explained.

The EU and China signed a bilateral agreement – the Blue Partnership – in 2018 “We cooperate in global ocean management” and established a permanent working group that meets once or twice a year.

Pedro Reis Santos, secretary general of the Market Advisory Council (MAC), which provides trade advice to EU executives on fisheries and aquaculture products, told EURACTIV that at a meeting in March 2022, a Commission representative confirmed that IUU fishing issues had been resolved. addressed within the blue partnership.

“I think so [cette réunion] In any case, the Commission considered that the exchanges carried out within the framework of this working group were more effective than the fact of distributing the boxes.”he declared.

“Kings” of the open seas

In early December 2022, an independent investigation commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) concluded that “There are fears that there are too many vessels in China’s deep-sea fishing fleet. don’t go unnoticedusing techniques such as disabling the automatic identification system that increases the likelihood of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing violations”.

Distant-water fishing fleets are fishing vessels that operate outside their national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).“Joint Fishing Enterprises” or bilateral agreements. These vessels travel long distances across the oceans to catch or catch more valuable species not found in their own waters.

Within a few years, China had become the world’s largest deep-sea fishing fleet; Since 2014, it has even become a major deep-sea fishing country. This trend has been made possible by the depletion of fish stocks in Chinese waters, but it is also partly due to China’s economic strategy that makes fisheries a global political priority.

By comparison, according to Chinese government data, Europe’s deep-sea fishing fleet is estimated at 259 vessels, while China’s fleet is more than 2,700 vessels.

The Chinese navy is mainly present in African waters such as Ghana, Mauritania or Ivory Coast, Southeast Asia and South America.

According to a study commissioned by the PECH committee, “Generally lacks detail and transparency” Regarding the treaties and licenses used by China to legally enter these areas.

The study also revealed a lack of information “reliable” and transparency regarding the fishing activities and monitoring systems operated by China’s deep-sea fishing fleets, increasing the risk of overfishing.

“This leads to environmental degradation and reduced resource availability, as well as socio-economic consequences for local communities in some areas.”says the study.

The US imposed sanctions on Chinese ships – what will the EU do?

The investigation requested by the PECH committee and due to be reported by the European Parliament is not the only investigation to raise alarm bells.

On the day the study was published (December 9), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Office of Foreign Assets ControlThe U.S. Treasury Department’s (OFAC) has announced sanctions against two individuals and several Chinese fishing companies they own for illegal fishing and human rights violations.

Sanctions include freezing the assets of individuals and businesses in the United States, as well as banning all business activities in the United States. In total, these measures will apply to 157 Chinese ships.

Since 2010, the EU has also introduced a regulation aimed at combating and in some cases sanctioning IUU fishing activities. This rule applies “To all fishing vessels, regardless of their flag, in all sea waters” and includes practices such as fishing in a protected area without a valid permit, using prohibited gear, or failing to comply with reporting obligations.

The EU uses a ‘card’ system to enforce and enforce this legislation “legally caught products only” Entering the European market.

First, when the Commission has evidence that a third country is involved in IUU fishing activities, it issues a “yellow card”. It is an alert that allows you to start a targeted dialogue “to solve problems”.

Then, if the dialogue bears fruit, the Commission issues a “green card”. On the other hand, if the Commission considers the progress insufficient, it will issue a “red card”. A red card means that the country in question will be added to the list of non-cooperating countries and therefore banned from the EU market.

This month, Cameroon received a “red card” from the EU for registering fishing vessels operating outside its waters without sufficient control. Among them is allegedly a vessel involved in illegal fishing.

Since 2012, the Commission has issued illegal fishing “red cards” for six other countries – Belize, Cambodia, the Comoros Islands, Guinea, Sri Lanka and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – and has initiated procedures for 27 countries.

What about China?

The latest alert received by the Commission (December 13) from its advisory partners – the Markets Advisory Council (MAC) and the Distant Fisheries Advisory Council (LDAC) – represents market experts, industrial fisheries, civil society and trade unions.

“Given the strong evidence demonstrating IUU fishing operations by vessels of Chinese origin around the world, LDAC and MAC question why China has not yet been pre-identified (‘received a yellow card’)”.the statement said.

Both councils acknowledged this “Progress in cooperation between EU and China to combat IUU fishing”but they fear that this progress is not fast enough compared to the expansion of China’s deep-sea fishing fleet.

LDAC and MAC also raised the alarm about navy-related human rights violations, such as forced labor and corruption, that China has yet to address. The councils also demanded public disclosure of how China’s performance was assessed.

“The European Commission must respond to our recommendations within two months. We are still waiting for a response from the Commission”Mr. Santos added.

Another reason the EU has yet to issue a yellow card to China is that the two sides are important trading partners for fisheries and aquaculture products, according to Oceana’s campaign manager Ms Wulperhorst.

“A ban on seafood trade with China, which exports 1.1 billion euros worth of seafood in 2020, will have a huge impact on trade. [en comparaison avec] Ecuador, which was given a yellow card by the EU while its exports amounted to 679 million euros in 2020”he said.

In terms of value, China is the EU’s second most important import partner for fisheries and aquaculture products, after neighboring Norway. China is also the fourth largest recipient of EU seafood exports.

To date, the EU has listed 1,371 Chinese companies that can export fish and fish products to Europe.

“Despite some shortcomings in its implementation, the EU still has the strongest legal mechanism to combat IUU fishing at the international level”Oceana’s campaign manager concluded.

However, as the advisory council’s joint statement noted, a strong legal mechanism should be implemented without double standards for different countries.

Contacted by EURACTIV, the European Commission and the Chinese delegation to the EU did not respond to China’s allegations of illegal fishing activities or other aspects of this investigation prior to the publication of this article.

[Édité par Anne-Sophie Gayet]

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