Asean agri heads tackle EU fishery rule
- Rocel Felix () - August 28, 2006 - 12:00am
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) are meeting in Tagbilaran, Bohol this week to come up with a unified stand to counteract European Union’s (EU) move to impose more rigid fishery standards.

The AMAF senior officials meeting will also be threshing out concerns on containing the avian influenza menace.

Member countries of ASEAN, particularly Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, which are strong exporters of fresh frozen tuna and processed tuna products, are increasingly getting worried over recent overtures by the European Commission (EC) that it would implement new standards for tuna and other fishery products exports.

"The meeting will among others, discuss on how a joint approach would be made to address the European Union’s clear direction to impose overly stringent food standards," said a source from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

For one, the EU which is the world’s largest buyer of seafood, is bent on continuing its rigid allowable lead level in tuna and other fishery exports. The EC said it already conceded to a 0.03 parts per million (ppm) level, instead of pushing for the 0.02 ppm that they originally wanted to impose. Currently, the level is at 0.05 ppm.

The EU is putting pressure to change existing standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) that allows lead content in tuna and other fishery products at 0.2 ppm to 0.05 ppm.

CAC is the international body tasked with developing a food code known as the Codex Alimentarius or Codex, the global reference point for harmonized or uniform food standards to ensure the protection of public health and fair practices in food trade.

The Philippines and other tuna exporters in Southeast Asia such as Thailand are opposing this move because none of the exporters at this stage, have the capability to comply.

Sources said the EC is under extreme pressure to revise already acceptable world standards from Spain and Italy, which make up for 65 percent and 19 percent of the region’s EU tuna canning industry, are opposing other sources of tuna and its variants.

EC’s other restrictive trade practices include the "rapid-alert system for food and feed" which publishes regular "alert notifications" and "information notifications." Alerts are triggered by the EU member states that detect the problem and these result in measures such as withdrawal or recall of products from container vans to supermarket shelves.

Since the system was started in recent years, fishery products have figured prominently in the weekly reports.

Such actions would adversely affect tuna processors in General Santos City. The EU market accounts for 42 percent of the country’s tuna exports and comprises 49 percent of canned tuna exports.

An official of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines said the rapid alert system is flawed because the heavy-metal content of fish cannot be controlled. He noted that tuna and other species are highly migratory and there is no existing method that could trace the exact origins of these fish.

Exporters added there is evidence of uneven application of the regulations across the EU.

"As it is, the current system on random sampling for heavy metals in tuna and other fish shipped into EU is unreliable. They can easily claim that we are not complying. On the other hand, tuna caught by EU vessels fishing under other fishing agreements such as those of France and Spain are likely to get more favorable treatment such as they can penetrate these markets and their non-compliance overlooked altogether," said the TCAP source.

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