Business Day | 21 December 2009
South Africa: Fisheries pact with EU has to wait
Johannesburg — THE conclusion of a fisheries agreement between SA and the European Union (EU) has had to take second place to other considerations, even though SA’s fish exports to the EU are attracting duties that some other countries’ are not.
The EU, having over- exploited its own resources, is a vast potential market for fish. It is the single biggest importer of fishery products, at 500000 tons worth about € 14bn a year.
According to EU figures, imports of fish and fishery products from SA last year were worth € 229m. That was only about 10% of the region’s total imports from SA, but according to the Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (Tralac), it represented 60% of SA’s fish exports.
Danie Jordaan, an independent trade consultant for the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association, says some South African fish, like hake, is much sought after in Europe.
"But our exporters are also hampered by the relatively strong rand and would benefit from zero tariffs. Tariffs into the EU differ on various products, and range from about 4% to 12%. We also enjoy some benefits under the generalised system of preferences, where tariffs are even lower. But we still want a deal on fish with zero rates."
Department of Trade and Industry deputy director-general Xavier Carim says SA receives no preferences in the EU market and its fish exports pay the "most favoured nation" tariff.
"We would do better if we had preferences," he says. "Under the Trade and Development Co-operation Agreement (TDCA), the EU sought to link preferential access for trade in fish to a fisheries agreement that would grant their fishing fleets access to our fishing resources. We did not accept this. It is one thing to exchange preferences for trade in fish and quite another to grant direct access to resources."
Other countries’ fishing partnership agreements allow European fishing fleets access to their territorial waters in return for duty-free access to the EU. Although the emphasis of agreements now is on sustainable development, the sophistication of the European commercial fishing fleets still gives them an advantage in coastal areas where they compete against small-scale, artisanal fishermen.
Carim says that SA entered negotiations with the European Commission to exchange tariff preferences for fish under the economic partnership agreement, but these negotiations were not concluded for a range of other reasons.
According to Tralac researchers Willemien Denner and Sean Woolfrey, under the TDCA, which came into force in 2004, the EU agreed to eliminate duties on imports of South African fisheries products as set out in the fisheries a greement between the two parties. But the fisheries agreement has never been concluded.
Under the EU-Southern African Development Community (Sadc) economic partnership agreement, EU duties on fisheries imports from Sadc signatories would be eliminated — in some cases immediately, in others after three years and nine years. SA has not signed the agreement, for various reasons.
"Given that the EU tariffs facing South African fisheries exporters are not that high to begin with, and do not appear to be prohibiting South African exports, the elimination of these tariffs would not appear to be a particularly significant incentive for SA to sign the economic partnership agreement," say Denner and Woolfrey .
Jordaan says although the EU market for fish is huge, SA’s resources are limited, which inhibits its capacity to grow exports.
Dave Japp of Capfish, an international marine monitoring group based in Cape Town, says SA’s hake resource, its biggest export, has improved substantially in the past two years and exports are healthy. Because of the global recession the fishing industry reports it is holding back products but markets have picked up recently.
SA’s rock lobster, which is a major lucrative export both live and frozen, is generally robust, while the small pelagic resource, — pilchard and anchovy — is a highly variable resource from year to year. This year the pilchard has been less healthy than the anchovy, Japp says.