According to a report, efforts are under way on the part of the European Union to resume fish imports from Pakistan. It may be recalled that the EU had placed a ban on Pakistani seafood imports in 2007 complaining of the unhygienic conditions under which various products were handled at different levels, from fishing boats to processing and packaging facilities. The EU had told Pakistan that it would not lift the ban until the necessary requirements were met. The EUís measure caused substantial loss to the fishing industry as 30-35 percent of its products were being sold in the EU countries.
The government has managed to make up for some of the loss by increasing sales to Middle Eastern markets. As per a State Bank report, during the last three, four years there has been a substantial increase in seafood exports. For example, they rose from $197.839 million in July-May 2009-10 to $258.161 million during July 2010 to May 2011 period.
Still, the sectorís potential remains largely under-utilised. Since the ban those concerned have been trying to improve conditions in line with international standards. Not long ago, the Sindh government announced an ambitious development project worth Rs 558 million under which it decided to provide 75 percent of the total cost of modification of a boat.
By the third quarter of last year, as many as 100 boats had been upgraded. These measures are important not only in terms of enhanced exports prospects, but can also be expected to better the quality of the sea food that reaches local consumers. It has been a while since the government asked the EU to send its team to inspect the facilities and allow resumption of imports.
The team kept postponing the visit, citing security concerns. However, early last year came the news that the EU had informed Pakistan that it was ready to resume imports without sending its inspectors to examine on-the-ground situation. But there was a caveat: for that to happen, the government had to provide a list of fisheries establishments as well as vessels which met the required standards. A year on, press reports are still saying the same thing: that efforts are on to restart exports to EU countries.
Considering that the EU had put forward a specific proposal under which Pakistan was to furnish a list of reliable fisheries establishments and the vessels they use, it should not have taken that long to sort out the modalities. In the absence of a clearly stated reason for the inordinate delay, it would not be surprising if people attribute unsavoury motives to the authorities concerned.
It would be advisable, therefore, that the TDCP, whose responsibility it is to act as the key co-ordinating agency in improving conditions in fish harbours and upgradation of processing units in accordance with EU and international standards, moves to remove the snag wherever and whatever it might be. Seafood exports to the EU must recommence sooner rather than later.