SEAFOOD EXPORTS TO EU
Quality standards can give edge
By ASHRAF KHAN
May 30 - June 05, 2005
On the back of 43 percent anti-dumping duty imposed by the United States on seafood imports from China and India, seafood exporters from Pakistan were expecting a stellar growth of 25 percent in their shipments to cross $170 million mark at the outset of the fiscal year.
Though they were judiciously expecting to capitalize the opportunity as Indian and Chinese seafood exporters cater to 50 percent of the total seafood imports of the US, yet they would have to take pains for improving quality and health standards of the food items in view of the choosey markets.
The jubilant target of the seafood exporters was dampened when the federal government put a stern ban on seafood export to the European countries on account of quality concerns. The federal government has also advised the provincial fisheries authorities to take effective measures to remove apprehensions of the EU, the largest single buyer of Pakistani seafood.
Actually, the government move came after a European Union team, which visited Karachi in March to inspect seafood quality. The team has expressed serious concerns over Pakistani seafood quality and asked for quality assurance in a certain period otherwise it would ban imports from Pakistan.
Just to avert the much-feared ban, Islamabad slapped that ban as a precautionary measure. The federal government has now asked the Sindh fisheries authorities to step up-grading of the facilities at Karachi Fish Harbor. The governmnt ordered not a single seafood item would be dispatched to EU countries until following the realization of the target.
Up-gradation would cover production chain in particular, vessels, landing sites, auctions establishment, portable water, ice facilities, transportation of raw materials from auction hall to establishment, shrimps pealing facilities and even surrounding environment.
The three-member team from EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) visited Karachi last month to check seafood quality and inspected both the fisheries facilities and installations at Karachi and Korangi fish harbors.
The team concluded visit on warnings that Pakistani authorities should maintain seafood quality as per union's standards otherwise they would lose their largest seafood export market.
The EU warning has alarmed the government quarters as the country had lost the European market for several months on the same grounds in 1998.
The EU concerns prompted the authorities to hire consultants for up-gradation of fisheries sector and the decision had been taken in a meeting chaired by the commerce minister, couples of days back.
The ministry of food and agriculture stepped out to take radical measures which are amenable for EU members. The EU countries, which accounted for 54 percent of Pakistan's $128 million seafood export during 2003-04, already carrying a strict check on import of frozen fish products from Pakistan.
This strict check came after detection of a contaminated consignment of shrimps at Rotterdam in March 2002. The exporters say the March visit of the EU team was part of their continued efforts to restrict quality measures in seafood exporting countries, mostly from Asia.
Before Pakistan they had also visited India and Bangladesh. In 1998 both Pakistani and Indian seafood exports were banned to EU countries. But ban on India was lifted earlier than Pakistan and currently no one of Pakistani competitors is under any check or ban. However, exporters fear prolonged ban on seafood export to the EU countries would deprive them of the largest export share and the country would not be able even to match last year's seafood export figures.
Initially the ban was put for a week or a two. But it is almost two months now and if the situation prevails, it would force most of the exporters to shut down their business as over 50 percent exporters' business belongs only to EU countries.
The federal government had asked the Sindh authorities for steps but not a single effort had been witnessed so far betraying the lethargy of the provincial government.
Pakistan has a long 1,050-kilometre coastline and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles producing 84,000 metric tonnes of seafood every year, which shares 80 percent in total seafood export.
Sindh government has planned to spend Rs15 million at Karachi Fish Harbor following directives of the federal authorities to establish an exclusive enclave for seafood exports to the European countries.
Recently, the provincial and federal officials decided in a meeting to set up a landing point and processing unit exclusively for the seafood products to the European Union countries.
The decision was taken to avert possible damage to exports to the EU, currently banned for last two months by the federal government. Nevertheless the decision to initiate Rs15 million project was late a little bit as the seafood exports to the EU had suffered heavily.
After that decision, Sindh fisheries authorities were asked to take immediate corrective measures, and design strategy to win the confidence of importers from the EU states.
Bickering between the two — federal and provincial — governments as to who would bear the cost of the project was the key reason of the delay but now finally it was assigned to the Sindh government.
The Karachi Fisheries Harbor Authority would execute the project expected to be commenced soon. An exclusive zone would be set up within the premises of the harbors for the products exported to the EU.
Nevertheless, the damage is done as seafood exports to the EU states has suffered over $20 million losses during last two months following the federal government ban forcing the importers to switch over to India and Bangladesh.