Vietnam is on the verge of joining several other Southeast Asian countries on the list of seafood-exporting markets booked with a ‘yellow card’ by the EU, a warning against illegal and unregulated fishing activity.
Vietnamese seafood exporters have to come together and cooperate with the EU in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, industry insiders said at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.
The EU-initiated IUU regulation became effective in 2010, a key instrument in ensuring that only fisheries certified as legal can access the EU market.
Under the IUU, a ‘yellow card’ is effectively the strongest warning a country can receive without formal penalty.
Upon receiving it, that country is given six months to take the necessary corrective measures.
If significant progress is made, the ‘yellow card’ will be lifted, replaced with a ‘green card,’ representing legal export status.
If not, a ‘red card’ will be given, meaning that particular country is banned from exporting its seafood to the European Union.
Monday's conference, held by the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), took place after the EU concluded an evaluation of Vietnam's seafood exports in mid-May.
The EU has recommended that the Southeast Asian country properly follow the IUU regulation and correct any violation by September 30; otherwise, it is highlyly likely that it will be given a 'yellow card.'
Not many Vietnamese fishing boats are installed with a tracking device, so it is a challenge to ensure they will not violate the waters of other countries while hunting for fish in the oceans, according to VASEP.
Vietnam is likely to receive a ‘yellow card’ if it fails to take corrective measures in time, experts warned at the meeting.
“If businesses fail to follow the IUU regulation as set by the EU, it’s inevitable that Vietnam will come under strict supervision, or even be barred from exporting to the EU market,” Nguyen Thi Thu Sac, head of the seafood department with VASEP, said.
“A ‘yellow card’ from the EU will create myriad problems for Vietnamese seafood exporters.”
Vietnam’s annual seafood exports are worth between US$1.9 billion and $2.2 billion, with the EU and U.S. markets each accounting for 16-17 percent.
During the six-month ‘yellow card’ period, the country in question will have 100 percent of its shipments to the EU held for inspection before clearing customs.
The process will take up to four weeks and some 500 GBP ($675) per container, not to mention storage expenses charged by seaports, according to VASEP deputy general secretary Nguyen Hoai Nam.
“However the biggest risk is that any yellow-carded country will continue to experience a higher rate of rejection by customs,” Nam warned.
“For instance, the Philippines now has 70 percent of its containers shipped to the EU returned, resulting in financial damage of up to 10,000 euro [$11,860] per container.”
The ‘yellow card’ will affect not only exports to the EU but also to the U.S., another of the country’s biggest seafood buyers, according to VASEP.
If Vietnam was to receive a ‘yellow card’, the country would have to accept reduced exports to the EU immediately, as European customers will not want to buy from a ‘yellow-carded’ exporter.
The name of the yellow-carded country will also be publicized on the industry’s websites and in magazines, damaging its reputation.
Other countries will tighten their inspections on seafood imports from any EU-warned country.
According to VASEP, the U.S. will apply a new supervision scheme for imports from yellow-carded countries beginning in January 2018.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Vu Van Tam has warned that the risk of being given a ‘yellow card’ by the EU is real for Vietnamese seafood exporters.
“In Southeast Asia we already see Thailand and the Philippines receiving the ‘yellow card’ while Cambodia is carrying a ‘red card’,” Tam said.
“The government and industry must understand that we have to make real change to avoid such consequences for the country’s seafood sector and export revenue.”