Fish and fish products to be included in EU-US tariff talks


Fish and fish products to be included in EU-US tariff talks

18 February 2019
EU-US negotiations on eliminating tariffs for “industrial” goods will cover fish ad fish products.

In the light of such news, it is unacceptable for the EU not to include provisions on fish welfare and a proper Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter in the mandate for these negotiations. EU institutions are currently discussing the draft mandates published by the European Commission in view of negotiations with the US on both tariff elimination for industrial goods and on conformity assessments.  While it is never mentioned explicitly in the draft mandate – or in its annex – the negotiations aimed at lowering tariffs will cover fish and fish products. The text states that “Industrial goods encompass all goods other than those included in Annex I of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture”, which does not cover fish and fish products. This has been confirmed by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström at the latest Expert Group on Trade Negotiations, and informally by several Member States officials.

The EU’s strategy with the US was to pursue a very narrow tariff-only agreement, which would not include the usual features of modern EU FTAs, such as the chapter on trade and sustainable development. Already NGOs were pointing at the risks of adopting such an approach, as industrial goods are produced under specific environmental and labour standards, and there will be issues in keeping a level playing field. In addition, by addressing only tariffs instead of adopting a comprehensive approach including rules, the EU will lose leverage for future discussions.

One of the reasons underlying the EU’s choice is that the US has expressed its willingness to leave the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Many European stakeholders, the European Parliament and French President Emmanuel Macron among them, have publicly declared the EU should not enter in a trade agreement with a country that does not abide by the Agreement. Committing to it is now seen as an essential part of any future Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) Chapter.

The EU must reconcile two opposite requirements: they need the agreement to be WTO compliant, and therefore to cover “substantially” all trade – this might explain why fish and fish products have now appeared on the table. And at the same time, it must be seen as sufficiently narrow to justify the absence of chapters on rules such as on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, including on animal welfare, and the one on sustainable development.

Now that the mandate allows for the possibility to address fish and fish products, and that the intention to do so has been officially expressed, the absence of provisions on fish welfare cooperation and of a TSD chapter addressing overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries in the future agreement would be unacceptable.

The US is the EU’s fourth source of imports in fish and fish products. In 2016, the EU consumed roughly 12 million tons of fish products and imported around 9 million, or two thirds of the volume it consumed. EU citizens, and EU institutions, are getting increasingly aware of fish sentience, and as such rules could rapidly improve in the future, not only for farmed fish but also for those caught in the wild. The EU needs to ensure there will be cooperation with the US about this and that future measures it will adopt will be respected.

Stephanie Ghislain, Trade and Animal Welfare Project Leader
+32 (0)2 740 08 96 |