BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union is including Thailand's actions to stamp out slave labor in the fishing industry during its investigation whether to impose sanctions on the major fish-exporting nation for failing to crack down on illegal and unregulated fishing.
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is including Thailand's actions to stamp out slave labor in the fishing industry during its investigation whether to impose sanctions on the major fish-exporting nation for failing to crack down on illegal and unregulated fishing.
The EU is expected to rule by the end of the year whether to impose an EU seafood import ban on Thailand and is in negotiations with Bangkok on amending a series of fishing practices which it considers as seriously contributing to the depletion of fish stocks.
The EU has successfully forced several nations to change its fisheries policies, but in the case of Thailand though, it is also looking into the social conditions of some fishermen that many have called slavery.
An AP investigation has shown that enslaved fishermen are routinely hauled from Thailand to work on smaller Thai trawlers in foreign waters where they are given little or no pay. Hundreds of former slaves told AP they were beaten or witnessed other crew members being attacked. They were routinely denied medicine, forced to work 22-hour shifts with no days off and given inadequate food and water.
"We are very concerned about the situation, both at the level of fishing and slavery. And we think we have to deal with both issues," a senior EU fisheries official said on condition of anonymity because the talks with the Thai authorities were still ongoing.
"We want a global solution at the end," the official said.
The EU will be sending a fact-finding mission to Thailand this month on both the fisheries control and social conditions. "Several departments work with us and they will join our mission," the official said.
Even since the EU slapped Thailand with a so-called yellow card in April for allegedly failing to live up to international standards on fishing practices, talks have been ongoing to stave off sanctions.
Thailand is a major exporter of seafood, with yearly revenues of almost 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion), and an EU ban — a "red card" — would seriously affect the industry. Annual exports to the EU are estimated to be worth between 575 million euros ($640 million) and 730 million euros ($815 million).
Even though the official noted progress in the talks over the past months, "there is an enormous amount of work left to be done," citing issues over inspections, product traceability and legal changes.
While the talks with Thailand continue, the EU is also threatening to take trade action against Taiwan and the Comoros if they do not contain within six months illegal and unregulated fishing, which is a major contributor to the depletion of key commercial stocks.
At the same time, the 28-nation trade bloc lifted the so-called yellow card from Ghana and Papua New Guinea after both nations took sufficient measures to crack down on the illegal practices.
EU Fisheries chief Karmenu Vella said he called on Taiwan and the Comoros to follow suit and make sure they are not slapped with export bans to the lucrative EU market.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert