The European Union (EU) imposed restrictions on Maldivian export of canned tuna for refusing to change or abandon Islamic principles, President Abdulla Yameen claimed today, declaring a foreign policy shift to the East.
In his address to the nation on the occasion of Republic Day, President Yameen said economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state posed by “Western colonial powers”.
“Participating in business with China does not involve any such compulsion for us,” Yameen said at a ceremony at the Dharubaaruge convention centre this morning.
Yameen referred to the EU’s refusal to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.
Until January 2014, fish exports to the EU – the single largest export partner by value – were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.
Last year, the government’s application for a year’s extension under the ‘GSP Plus’ program was declined as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions. The Maldives holds reservations concerning the freedom of religion component of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Former Fisheries Minister Shafeeu told Minivan News in November 2013 that the Maldives would lose its competitive advantage over the larger fishing fleets of nearby Sri Lanka and Thailand with a 14-20 tariff on fish imports, and reduce profits to “a marginal value”.
President Yameen said there was “no way forward” for the country regarding the issue.
“The government’s thinking is changing towards the East,” he said.
Under the Maldivian Constitution, all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions as well as places of worship are prohibited. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport.
Former Minister Shafeeu explained last year that the EU’s move was not unexpected as Maldivian fisheries had been given a three year extension of its duty-free status after graduating from the UN’s definition of a ‘least developed’ country to ‘middle income’ in 2011.
The government decided to participate in the Chinese 21st Century Maritime Silk Route initiative because China is currently the strongest and fastest growing economy in the world, President Yameen said.
As a result, Yameen continued, the government believes that the “multi-million dollar infrastructure investment” needed for economic development would “arrive through this door.”
Participation in the Silk Road initiative would not adversely affect either the Maldives independence and sovereignty or the Islamic identity of the nation, he insisted.
Ahead of his maiden state visit in September, Chinese President Xi Jingping called on the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a maritime trade route linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the decision to join the Silk Route initiative, contending that it would threaten Indian Ocean security and risk putting the Maldives in the middle of war or disputes between Asian powers.
“Indian Ocean stability depends on a firm Indian hand. President Yameen must reverse his decision on Maldives being a party to the Silk Route,” the opposition leader tweeted on November 8.