A red alert is on for two of Fiji’s major export commodities—fish, which earns around $200 million in foreign exchange annually—and sugar, which rakes in around $100 million a year. This follows the possible blacklisting of Fiji by the European Union (EU) for having weak laws to tackle illegal fishing, and the possible increase in duty for sugar exports, in case the country does not ratify the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA). In November last year a decision by the European Commission named eight countries that export to the EU—Fiji and Vanuatu from the Pacific region were among them—as possible non-cooperating third countries to EU’s fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. The pressure is now on these eight countries to update their laws so they can tackle weak areas that have been identified by the EU; they are given a six-month window for dialogue and drawing up a plan of action. The worst-case scenario if they don’t comply is a loss of EU market access for their fish. Fiji, one of the ‘flagrant cases’, is being cited, among other things, for having no laws to punish Fiji-flagged vessels and Fijian nationals illegally fishing beyond Fiji waters, especially in the high seas; for not reporting on the number of vessels fishing for swordfish; This latest announcement on fish by the EU is on the heels of a decision it made on sugar which ‘somewhat twists Fiji’s arm to ratify the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) it has with the EU’, Island Business notes. In that decision made in September last year, the Fiji was a list of 18 countries from the African Caribbean and Pacific trade bloc (ACP) who will lose preferential market access for their sugar (under the current sugar protocol) if they don’t ratify the iEPA by January 1, 2014. Fiji is looking at going from zero duty (according to the current sugar protocol) at entry to forking out up to €339 (F$769) in import duty per tonne of raw cane sugar it exports to the EU if it does not ratify the iEPA by January 1, 2014. That is considered to render Fiji’s sugar business not feasible. Moreover, unlike fish, which had only recently been allowed back into the EU market after Fiji was blacklisted in 2008 for failing EU’s phytosanitary standards, sugar has consistently been Fiji’s main export to the EU. Island Business further says that the importance of it sugar sector was the main reason that Fiji went ahead to sign an iEPA in 2009 for, unlike fish, where local fish exporters diversified to other markets after the 2008 ban, getting sugar a new market at the prevailing world price against the cost of production locally was going to mean the collapse of Fiji’s sugar industry. In addition, almost 25 percent of Fiji’s labour force is dependent on Fiji’s trade with the EU. Officials of the Fijian Government assured earlier this year that despite the long process of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiations, mutual beneficial outcomes could be reached soon.
Source: Islands Business