Daniel Gueguen

In its 60-year history, the European Union has often distinguished itself by the use of innovative tools. Two come immediately to mind: the quotas and mechanisms under the Lomé Convention that offer developing country exporters the internal EU price rather than the dumping price practised on world markets. The regulatory innovation that was the rule in the 1960s and 1970s has since given way to an approach that is less political and more technical; in other words, bureaucratic.
But during a recent press visit to Vietnam, we witnessed a new technique, one that is respectful of commercial partners, being utilised by the EU in the fishing sector: the ‘yellow card’ system. Instead of imposing Brussels-made rules upon a country, the yellow card places ‘under surveillance’ any state that is practising illegal fishing (or not doing enough to prevent it) and requests that state to implement solutions that will ensure respect for international conventions. If successful, they will receive a ‘green card’; if unsuccessful, they receive a ‘red card’ which leads to a ban on exporting their fishery products to the EU.

A process conceived and managed by DG MARE
The system is managed by the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the European Commission. Since 2012, DG MARE has launched 25 yellow cards in the fisheries field. 17 of those cases have been settled: 11 led to a green card whereas 6 produced a red card. For example, the Philippines moved from yellow to green, while Cambodia saw yellow turned into red. The system of yellow, green and red cards is interesting. Since 2012, it starts with a warning from the Commission, followed by inspections conducted by Commission civil servants. It is the latter who decide on initiating the yellow card procedure. DG MARE and the offending country set up regular contacts, organise checks and draw up a programme of action. The European Parliament can decide to do its own inspections, though it does not have a formal role in the yellow card process. If, following the final inspection, the third country is considered to have done enough to combat illegal fishing, the Commission awards a green card. A red card requires the agreement of a comitology committee, and in extreme cases the country may be placed on a blacklist if the Council of Ministers so decides.

A textbook case of lobbying applied to the fisheries sector
The yellow card system pushes the country in question to implement solutions itself. In the case of Vietnam, stakeholders and authorities have put in place an almost textbook model of lobbying and applied it to the fisheries sector:

  • The problem is fishing that is “illegal, unregulated and unreported”, or “IUU” for short. IUU would inspire a genuine public relations campaign across a country of almost 100 million people, with logos, adverts, quality labels and constant reporting. Within a few months, IUU became a national cause.
  • A second angle of action consisted in fishery stakeholders organising themselves via the founding of two associations: VINAFIS for fishery businesses and VASEP for producers and exporters. These highly representative organisations made the issue their number one priority, amassed the necessary budgetary resources, published “White Book on Combatting IUU Fishing in Vietnam” and worked in close partnership with the relevant ministries (fisheries, environment, customs, etc.).
  • Thirdly, an amended Fisheries Law was drawn up and adopted, due to enter into force on 1 January 2019. This Law includes 9 chapters centred around two pillars: the fight against illegal fishing and the creation of 16 protection maritime zones along the Vietnamese coastline. Concerning the first pillar, the task was immense: reducing the fishing fleet by 30% (currently there are 110,000 vessels), installing GPS systems in 3,000 of the largest boats and equipping 12,000 medium-sized boats with a more
    basic VPX transponder. In addition, they had to implement financial sanctions and increased resource monitoring, especially for tuna.

A win-win system
Given that Vietnam relies on fishing and aquaculture for around 17% of its GDP, this issue is vital. With exports to the EU coming to €1 billion per year, the yellow card has reduced this figure by about 30%. A red card would lead to an export ban and would also undermine the country’s reputation in aquaculture, which is of even greater value. Admittedly, the plan to combat IUU has a cost, but it is seed money; an investment that will rapidly bring benefits to the country in the shape of better volumes, improved quality, revitalised resources, protected maritime zones and stronger local tourism. But the point of the yellow card concept is also based on the logic of partnership that has been built up between Vietnam, its fishers and maritime industry on one hand, and DG MARE on the other. Contrary to what we often see, DG MARE is very deeply involved here, via constant on-going dialogue. It is a sort of tutor; or better yet, a facilitator of success.

Good examples deserve to be promoted – such is the case with this article. If one could offer a piece of advice to Vietnam, it would be to set out a rigorous action plan based on a multi-annual timeframe and to undergo an independent conformity audit every year. Closely involving NGOs that are active in the fisheries field – in particular WWF – is also recommended, whether in Hanoi or in Brussels.

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