Reuters | Mon 21 Jan 2008
EU keen to renegotiate Mauritania fish deal
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS, Jan 21 (Reuters) — European Commission experts will head to Mauritania later this week in a bid to renegotiate the EU’s most valuable fishing deal with another country, diplomats and officials said on Monday.
The European Union has signed more than 20 bilateral fishing agreements, nearly all with developing countries and mostly in Africa, that give the EU a substantial extra supply of fish.
The deal with Mauritania is the largest and most valuable.
It allows 200 boats flying the flags of some 13 EU countries to catch many different species in Mauritanian waters. For that, the EU pays Mauritania 86 million euros ($124.5 million) a year.
Since the EU is not using all its fishing quota allowances, experts at the European Commission’s fisheries unit want to lower them — and also pay less from EU coffers.
The idea was for the overall value of the Mauritania deal, which represents a large chunk of the country’s annual budget, to stay unchanged since the Commission’s development department could step in to pay the balance, diplomats said.
"There was an over-optimistic expectation about how much fish the EU wanted so we need to renegotiate to get more value for money," one EU diplomat told reporters.
"A lot of countries that fish there are concerned ... but this represents a large part of Mauritania’s state budget so we can’t just leave them up in the air," he said.
Commission experts were expected to travel to Mauritania later this week to discuss a memorandum of understanding that the bilateral deal would be renegotiated. Time is pressing, since the agreement is due to expire at the end of July.
It can be renewed for two years with its current terms and conditions — and this will happen automatically if discussions do not succeed by the end of this month: the deadline that the EU must meet if it wants to change the agreement’s provisions.
"We’re cautiously optimistic that there can be a renegotiation," an EU official told Reuters.
Conservationists and anti-poverty activists have long criticised the EU’s fisheries agreements with developing countries, slamming the deals as a "fish, pay and go" policy.
But the Commission, which negotiates and administers the agreements on behalf of EU governments, disagrees.
"What were once access arrangements with a financial contribution have now become genuine partnerships for the development of sustainable and responsible fisheries," its fisheries department says in a notice on its website.
"The idea is to help the third countries put in place their own fisheries policies that can help them meet their aim of economic development while protecting fish resources," it says.
(Editing by Darren Ennis)