The EU bans seafood imports By -Ismat Sabir-

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Earlier, the MFD sent the plan to the EU, but it was rejected for various reasons. There are also some US restrictions on seafood exports, which needed to be lifted. The EU has banned seafood exports from Pakistan since April 2007. The action was taken after its inspectors’ visit to Pakistan in January this year. They found the industry’s food processing below their standards. The EU had also raised complaints against fishing vessels, auction halls and processing units, which have still not been addressed by the fishermen community. However, to remove their objections the Government of Sindh has spent Rs 50 million to meet the EU export standards.

In 2004, the per capita food fish supply was estimated at 13.5 kg, excluding China. Overall, fish provided more than 2.6 billion people with at least 20 percent of their average per capita animal protein intake. The share of fish proteins in the total world animal protein supplies grew from 14.9 percent in 1992 to 16.0 percent in 1996, but declined to about 15.5 percent in 2003.

The estimates for 2005 indicate that the total world fishery production was 142 million tonnes, an increase of one million tonnes over 2004, and a record production. Although the total amount of fish available for human consumption have increased to 107 million tonnes, but its per capita availability remained at the same level as in 2004 because of population growth. China remains the largest producer, with fisheries production of 47.5 million tonnes in 2004, 16.9 capture and 30.6 million tonnes aquaculture. This provides an estimated domestic food supply of 28.4 kg per capita, as well as production for export and non-food purposes.

The EU’s eight-month ban on the Pakistani seafood has reduced the exports of fish and its preparations by 44 percent during August 2007. The main reason of this ban is the attitude of the Sindh government officials, who failed to maintain hygienic standards in line with the EU specifications. The other major reason was the insufficient seafood stocks for export due to an official ban on sea ventures for fishing during June and July, as the Arabian Sea during this period remained rough with high tides and caused many fatal accidents. The off-season of fish catching is also another reason for bringing down fish stocks during August. Similarly, during July-August 2007, the export also fell by 37.12 percent or $ 9.559 million, the exports stood at $ 16.192 million against $ 25.751 million during the same period last year.

The country’s seafood exports registered more than 40 percent growth last year, reached $ 196.15 million by June 2006 up from $ 138.94 million exported during 2004-05. The seafood export surpassed the target set for 2005-06 of $ 160 million by 22.5 percent. Pakistan exported seafood worth $ 188 million during the financial year 2006-07, which was almost four percent less against $ 196 million of 2005-06. August-September is the peak period of the season and before the ban Pakistan used to export over 90 percent seafood products to the EU in these months. Due to the EU ban, the shrimp exporters had explored some markets in the Middle East, China and Korea. The European countries are the largest buyers of Pakistani seafood, mainly shrimps, for more than two decades, sharing 53 percent of the total export to the world. Of the total 60 percent are exported through the fish harbour auction hall. A few exporters have direct landing of seafood to their processing units from the approved fishing boats under the Vendor Assurance Programme (VAP).

The last ban from the MFD on seafood exports to the EU countries was the second one in less than two years. In March 2005, the department suspended seafood shipments to the EU as a precautionary measure on the same grounds. Moreover, all the approved firms exporting to the EU countries were advised to implement the VAP through purchasing the raw material directly from the approved boats until the Auction Hall at the Harbour is operated under Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). It was already indicated that if the international standards were not met, Pakistan might not be able to continue exports. The country faced the same crisis in 2002 when the EU imposed 100 percent checking on import of frozen fish products from Pakistan, as they detected a contaminated consignment of shrimps at Rotterdam.

It may be noted that Kuwait also imposed a ban on imports of seafood from Pakistan in 2006. The authorities have become strict to keep the ban continued for an indefinite period on health grounds. The Middle East is a major importer of Pakistani white and silver pamphlet and croaker, as well as shrimps and crabmeat. However, the Middle East, Canada and the US are the smaller markets of Pakistani seafood. To boost fish export from Balochistan, the federal government has decided that the existing fish harbour at Gwadar would be used as mini-port for cargo handling purpose annexed with the Gwadar deep sea port and to replace the existing fish harbour, the government plans to construct a fish landing jetty and allied harbour facilities at Pishukan, Gwadar.

The project will be implemented in two phases. Phase-I would comprise fish jetty, road works, auction hall, break water and groyne wall, which is to be completed within two years. The second phase will be completed in 36 months through private sector under BOT (build operate transfer) or BOO (build-operate-own) consisting of additional jetty, break water, reclamation works, for fishing facility, repair yard, cold storage, ice plant and packing and processing plants.

It is expected that the project would give boost to linkage industries such as boat building, repair workshops, packing processing and canning of fish, etc. After the construction of the jetty, the fish catch at Pishukan will increase from 9,310 metric tonnes, 2007, to 12,040 metric tonnes per year by the year 2015. The Pishukan share in fish catch will rose to 15,560 metric tonnes per year by 2020 and it will touch the figure of 20,310 metric tonnes per year by 2025. The government also decided to give back fishery rights to the provinces. Since fishery rights have been a provincial issue, thus these should be returned to the provinces concerned. Under this decision Punjab would get fishery rights over Chashma Barrage and NWFP over Tarbela and Khanpur dams.

The fisheries owners are complaining that sewerage system has collapsed, the roads are inundated by overflowing gutters, while the authorities are not interested in solving this prime importance issue. The exporters urged the government to ensure hygienic standards at the harbour, as required by the EU, and get this prolonged ban lifted at the earliest. The exporters say we have done whatever was possible and now the ball is in the government’s court and it should offer some incentives. They claim that the country could enhance its exports to around $ 1 billion if proper guidance is provided to the mostly uneducated fishermen.

The writer is a senior journalist and researcher

Courtesy ThePost