More bad EU news for Taiwan / by Francisco Blaha

A recently published inspection report by the EU Inspection body, the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) found that the Taiwanese Central Competent Authority (the Bureau of Standards, Metrology, and Inspection) cannot fully guarantee that fishery products exported to the European Union comply with all relevant provisions of EU regulations.  And this in on top of the present “yellow card” regarding IUU.

Let explain this a bit better, for many years I been working on EU market access requirements for fish and fishery products helping countries to access or maintain EU market access in both topics (sanitary and IUU), I worked for the EU itself in these missions and I wrote quite a few manuals on this (see here and here) so I have a strong interest in this topic and I’ll try to make sense of it in the paragraphs below.

The EU market access is governed by two “technical” regulatory sets (Health/SPS and IUU certification) and a trade related one (Origin) that the exporting country needs to comply with. The most complex requirements are with Health/SPS set, so it is fair to say that the “main” authorisation conditions are the ones in place for health certification.

For non-EU countries, the European Commission is the negotiating partner that defines import conditions and certification requirements.

The two main regulations affecting fish and fishery products seek, among other objectives, to protect final consumers’ health and close EU markets from products originated from Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

Under these regulations all the fishing products have to be captured, manipulated, elaborated, transported and delivered following standards that are established by European legislators, taking into account European realities and addressed to European citizens.

Presently there are approximately 98 countries authorised for exports of fish and fishery products from the health side, of which around 55 are authorised for aquaculture products and 13 for live bivalve molluscs.

Establishments in a third country intending to export their Fish and Aquaculture Products (FAP) to the EU should be registered by the national CA and appear in the list of approved establishments under their own country.

The registration procedure should be undertaken following the EU legislation. The registering CA must also be listed, to guarantee that the structure and the execution of food/fish products are controlled at least to standards equivalent to those of the EU.

The same principle rules apply for fishing vessels (i.e. freezer vessel and factory vessel). Ice vessels and small scale crafts have only to be registered and “approved” (but not listed) in regards the EU requirements before they can be used to supply exporting facilities.

These approvals are not a “one off” event, but are dependent on continuous compliance with the national and EU specific requirements.

Regulation (EC) No. 853/200410, is the one that lays down specific hygiene rules on the hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, and Regulation. (EC) No. 854/200411, lays down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and also includes the basic rules for the surveillance of food and the listing system for imports.

This system includes special rules for fishing vessels, factory vessel and freezer vessels flying the flag of a third country (a non-EU country), in order to be able to control fishery products even when caught by one flag and processed in a different country. Furthermore, the regulation requires a Health Certificate that assures the imported products safety at the EU’s Border Inspection Posts.

DG SANTE is the Directorate of the EC in charge of protecting and improving public health and ensuring that Europe’s food is safe and wholesome. It is also responsible for protecting the health and welfare of farm animals.

The FVO is an inspection service that oversees national audits, both within the EU Member States (MS) and in Third Countries. In its function as the eyes and ears of the Commission, the FVO verifies on site that applicable requirements in the areas of food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health are properly implemented and enforced by MS and by third countries

The FVO checks the performance of important stakeholders (e.g. CA, establishments handling FAPs or related vessels). As the responsibilities have been delegated to the CAs and consecutive to the related industries, there are only a limited number of controls carried out directly in the establishments.

The audits comprise checks on legislation, and structure and activities of CAs, and in third countries check whether the national surveillance structure complies with EU regulations.

Third countries, which are considered as compliant or equivalent with EU rules, will have the possibility to import FAPs into the EU. The reports of the FVO for all countries can be found on their website.

Now, the FVO reported on their November 2015 mission to Taiwan, to assess the sanitary conditions applicable to the export of fishery products and bivalve molluscs to the EU.

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The mission found that the Central Competent Authority (the Bureau of Standards, Metrology, and Inspection) cannot fully guarantee that fishery products exported to the European Union comply with all relevant provisions of EU regulations.

They found out that:

  • The legislation was not fully in line with EU requirements in relation to hygiene conditions at landing sites and auctions and on freezer vessels.
  • Correct procedures were not carried out impartially by external bodies delegated to carry out official controls.
  • Controls did not adequately cover landing sites and auctions, HACCP plans were not correctly assessed, and the CA could not guarantee the eligibility of imported raw materials for the EU market, and in particular concerning the use of reefer vessels for the transport of frozen fishery products in bulk.
  • Deficiencies were noted concerning organoleptic examinations and histamine testing.
  • A laboratory used for water testing was not accredited against ISO 17025.
  • Plus others issues regarding bivalves

And these findings are based only on what the have saw in Taiwan itself… and not in the hundreds of vessels fishing worldwide.

For those of us that get to see Taiwanese Fishing Vessels in the ports of the pacific and others parts of the world, these findings are no surprise. How the Taiwanese Competent Authority maintains these vessels in the EU approved list is a complete mystery.

The vessels are away from Taiwan for years and have no inspections (nor regarding Seafood Safety or Fisheries) by their own staff. From the fishery side, the Port State authorities do it, but by some reason when a fisheries agreement is negotiated it never involves the seafood safety authorities of the licensing country. Even if the EU itself allows for the CAs of each country to have a MoU in between them and do the inspections on behalf.

Of the many Taiwanese vessels I have boarded in the Pacific that are on the EU list, I have yet to see one that is in any form of compliance with the EU requirements, in comparison with vessels from other authorized flags.

This is mostly evident in the Solomons, where the locally flagged vessels are a poster of good compliance in comparison to the Taiwanese landing next to them, yet both get the same market access and the local CA that witness gross non-compliances, has no authority to take any action on the reporting of these neither to Taiwan or the EU.

The most infuriating thing is that the conditions for the vessels are not complicated, and when a developed country like Taiwan does not comply with them, it set a terrible precedent for countries like the Solomon (a Least Developed Country) that make comparatively a much higher effort to maintain market access.

When a country receives a bad report like this one the EU has the chance to close its market to them (like they did with Fiji in 2008). I think that the EU should either go double whammy with Taiwan and crack them from the Health and IUU side, or make the access of the Taiwanese caught products conditional to Taiwan’s CA having an MoU with the CA of the coastal and/or port state where the vessels operate, so it delegates it capacity to the “local” CA to regularly inspect the vessel to ensure that it continues to comply with Community requirements, while operating in its waters and pays the cost associated to this.

In fact, I’ll propose this a licensing condition to the fleets of most DWFN like China, Korea, Philippines as the compliance with the EU sanitary requirements of these vessels is abysmal and because they are not in the national water when the FVO visits, they never see it.

Furthermore, this MoU scenario is contemplated by the provisions of article 15 of the Corrigendum to Regulation (EC) No 854/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 laying down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, so they can easily do this.