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RP fishers buck EU-ASEAN free trade deal

RP fishers buck EU-ASEAN free trade deal

MANILA, June 26 2008 (PNA) — A group of small-scale fishers in the Philippines is against a free trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In a statement on Thursday, the Kilusang Mangingisda (KM), a coalition of 14 fisherfolk federations, said that under the free-trade agreement (FTA) framework of the talks, European countries would be able to gain access to and exploit the marine resources of the Philippines and the whole Southeast Asia .

Bonifacio Federizo, chairman of KM, warned that it would worsen overfishing in the region. "If European fishing boats gain access to Philippine and ASEAN marine waters, it would only intensify overfishing and the damage to fishery stocks given the lack of a common set of fishing regulations and policies on a regional level. Without a common fisheries policy in ASEAN, EU fishing boats could operate in its waters virtually without restrictions," he stressed.

Federizo said that highly migratory species that straddle the marine waters of ASEAN countries are particularly vulnerable to overfishing, such as tuna, mackerel and sardines.

He noted that EU access to ASEAN fisheries would be made possible through the liberalization of fisheries investments and the "principle of parity and maximum frontloading" under the FTA framework.

He explained that the liberalization of fisheries investments would lead to the removal of current restrictions on equity and the ban on foreign investments in near-shore waters under Philippine laws.

"This is worsened by parity and maximum frontloading, under which the Philippines (or ASEAN as a whole) is bound to give the same treatment to EU that it gives to other countries. Thus, in allowing Japanese fisheries investments in the country’s waters under the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), the Philippines is bound to do the same to EU countries," Federizo said.

He also pointed out that the FTA framework is now the overarching guidelines in current negotiations on fishery access agreements between the EU and ACP (African, Carribean, Pacific) countries, and the EU is using such framework to push for liberal fishing access rights in ACP countries.

Federizo added that besides overfishing, the region’s commercial and small-scale fishers would also be facing stiff competition from EU fishing vessels in the hunt for increasingly overfished and dwindling fishery stocks, thus threatening their livelihoods.

The Kilusang Mangingisda called on ASEAN governments to reject the FTA framework, saying that the region’s fisheries are meant for the exclusive use and benefit of the region’s fishers and that the fishery resources must be protected to ensure the long-term food security in the region. (PNA)