Euro fish to flood Manila if bilateral trade deal is Ok’d
By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Trinity Biglang Awa
Manila, Philippines– Small fishermen identified with the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said once the Philippine government approves a bilateral free trade pact with the European Union, imported fish from member states of EU will flood the local market to the detriment of subsistence fishermen across-the-country.
Quoting a study made by Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PDIS), Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France said the small-scale fishermen are the biggest losers in the one-sided deal since they will face increasing competition with highly subsidized and cheap fish imports from European countries.
According to PIDS: “Potential losers are the small-scale fishermen who will face lower prices for their catch due to increased competition from imported fish and small-scale fish processors and marketing agents, including women, who will also face lower prices for their products.”
Pamalakaya’s France argued that the that upcoming Philippine-EU Free Trade agreement would result to elimination of tariffs between the Philippines and EU and this increase the quantity and exports of fisheries products to the Philippines, and would result economic losses and destruction of livelihood to 1.8 million subsistence fishermen and the 8 million people dependents to local fishing industry.
Balance of trade
The PIDS study however, argues that imports of aquaculture, pearl culture and pearl-gathering products will decrease and will improve the balance of trade, while imports of processed fish products and seaweeds will increase which will lower the balance of trade, asserting further that in percentage terms, the fall in imports of fisheries products is highest among aquaculture while the increase in imports is highest for processed products.
The PIDS study noted that the negative effect of freer trade on fisheries to the small fishermen is due to the structure of the chain of custody of procurement particularly for tuna exports.
It said the importation of fish will also further affect group of women fish workers, or those selling locally caught fish in the wet markets, “because the imported fish may compete with the local fish sold by them so as a result the women may have to bear the loss from unsold fish as a consequence.
The PIDS study also concluded that freer trade could potentially worsen the exploitation of already overfished fisheries stocks and resources. The government research arm group said the government must implement the proper resource and environmental management that will allow sustainable exploitation even with increased fisheries trade.
“The government should back off from entertaining a new free trade deal with Europe. It is an invitation to catastrophe that would inflict pain and hardships to 1.8 million small fishermen and 8 million dependents to local fishing industry.
We are talking here of more than 10 percent of the population relying mainly on the livelihood the local fishing industry provides.
Pamalakaya said about 900,000 metric tons (MT) of imported fish enter the country annually. Om 2011, marine product imports reached 800,000 MT, of which 60 percent is galunggong (round scad fish).
The group said the landing cost of the locally produced fish is P40 per kilo but those from China, Taiwan or Japan is only P20 ($0.465) per kilo.
The group said institutional buyers and local fish traders will buy heavily subsidized foreign fish products because these are 50 percent cheaper than the locally produced ones which are battered by the high cost of production.
Pamalakaya said with the new free trade deal with Europe, the country will be flooded with other kinds of fish stuffs such as salmon and other fish produced by member states of the European Union.
Pamalakaya stressed that there is no need to import fish from other countries, saying the 1.8 million fulltime and part time work force in the fisheries sector can produce and meet the fish needs of 99 million Filipinos and there is no need to rely on heavy importation.
The average annual production growth rate within that period was at 5.8 percent. In 2010, the total volume of fisheries production was 5.162 million metric tons and grew by 1.61 per cent.
Pamalakaya said the Philippines ranked sixth among the top fish producing countries in the world with its total production of 4.97 million metric tons of fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants (including seaweeds).
Pamalakaya blamed the country’s membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that the country’s adherence to neo-liberal trade policies has aggravated the dumping of food and agricultural products surpluses of developed countries resulting in the country’s heavy reliance on food produced by other countries.
The largest fisherfolk alliance also assailed previous plan to impose fish bans in 10 of the 13 major fishing grounds in the country. According to the BFAR’s national stock assessment program, ten of the 13 fishing grounds that had been mapped in the country are “very heavily exploited.” These include the Lingayen Gulf, northern Zambales, Visayan Sea, Camotes Sea, Honday Bay, Babuyan Channel, Lagonoy Gulf, Sorsogon Bay, Hinatuan and Dinagat Bay, and Davao Gulf.
Pamalakaya said the ban would affect no less than 500,000 Ilocano, Bicolano and Visayan fishermen and their families. The group said that the current fish ban imposed on sardine producing region in Mindanao has displaced over 100,000 small fisherfolk.
Pamalakaya questioned the veracity of the BFAR’s study, saying it is biased against the small-scale fishermen and only “meant to justify the importation and mass flooding of fish imports.”
“BFAR is promoting a nationwide displacement of small fisherfolk by peddling this lies to the Filipino public,” Pamalakaya said.
BFAR said there are 70 fishermen per square kilometer. Pamalakaya said small fishermen, with backward fishing boat and passive gear, could not even go beyond the 10 to 15-kilometer municipal fishing water.
According to the group, commercial fishing which is composed only of 50,000 operators get 50 percent of the total fish catch annually while municipal fisheries composed of 1.3 million small fisherfolk cover the other 50 percent.
“The DA and BFAR want to eliminate small fisherfolk so the government through the Public-Private-Partnership can sell our fishing waters to corporate clients of Malacanang. The government wants us to eat formalin-peppered fish from abroad,” the group said.###