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Looming EU ban on fish exports: Would Ghana lose its fish export market share?

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EUThe latest formal warning from the European Union regarding illegal fishing and the impending ban   on fish exports from Ghana to the EU market gives great concern regarding government’s action towards forestalling the decline or near collapse of another important employment generating, foreign exchange earning, non-traditional export (NTE) sector.

Would the government of Ghana watch this sector to collapse as we have seen our loss of competitiveness in other export sectors?

The EU’s announcement on November 26, 2013 effectively banned exports from Belize, Guinea and Cambodia. The announcement also warned three countries including Ghana requiring that these countries take action against pirate fishing.

Early warning

Before the EU’s issued its ‘yellow card’ warning, there has been ample information that one of the key non-traditional export potentials of Ghana is facing a decline. For example, Myrock Food Processing Company, a free zones company that exports canned tuna to the EU reported it has lost more than $5 million due to a ban of its exports to the European Market. The company reported that it has had to lay off over 800 employees due to the ban having reduced its daily production from 100 to 60 tonnes per day.

Ghana is the third tuna exporting country to the EU. In 2012, canned tuna was the number 3 of the leading 10 NTE exports from Ghana according to the Ghana Exports Promotion Authority, which earned close to $147million in revenue in the same year and a little over $220m in 2011. In fact the export promotion authority recognizes that tuna exports as one of the major NTE’s with significant possibilities for expansion.

It is not therefore out of place that the EU has a mutual recognition agreement with Ghana’s Standards Authority having with other donors built its capacity to become a competent authority in fish/ fisheries exports.

Government approach

However the lackluster approach by the government toward the impending ban on fish exports from Ghana smacks a lack of strategic place of international trade and competitiveness in Ghana’s development agenda. Since the establishment by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Fisheries Enforcement Unit (FEU) who were charged to arrest and prosecute offenders of Ghana’s fishing laws, little has been heard about them or their efforts toward their mandate.

The EU’s threat of a ban should be taken seriously for at least two reasons. First, quantitative restrictions on imports from another country are deemed inconsistent with general rules of free international trade as established by the World Trade Organization (WTO), however, the EU could justify its actions on environmental grounds which are provided for under Article XX (b) of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Secondly, should Ghana like to challenge this measure through the WTO’s dispute settlement system, which may be unlikely, its fishing industry would likely collapse by the time the WTO panel hears and rules on the case.

The only option for Ghana is to concentrate its efforts on preventive measures on the domestic front to maintain its export market share for fish products to the EU.

TradeGAP Africa recommends the following:

·    The FEU should intensify efforts at  monitoring fishing activities on Ghana’s fishing waters.

·    Develop and strengthen domestic certification for fish products that are not illegally caught, using already existing traceability system

·    Immediate survey and confirmation  of all vessels operating under the flag of Ghana

·    Increased sensitization and engagement with all stakeholders in the fishing industry with particular focus on small and medium sized fishing vessel owners and operators.

·    Compulsory (by legislation) mounting of vessel monitoring system on all confirmed active fishing vessels operating Ghana waters.

·    Increased diplomatic efforts at cooperating with other countries in the sub region and with the EU in finding a lasting solution.

·    EU technical assistance in respect of developing regional-wise mechanisms at fighting illegal fishing.

Ghana cannot consolidate its middle income status without international trade, thus every effort must be made to maintain and increase competitiveness in products with export potential like fish.

By Dode Seidu
CEO of TradeGAP Africa – an organization based in Ghana that promotes policy dialogue and research in investment and trade issues in Africa.
seidu.dode@gmail.com or tradegapp@gmail.com

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