Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber Of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) Ismail Asif has today said that Maldivian fishermen are going to stage a protest against the EU.
The protest is to express concern regarding the decision made by the EU not 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.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday Asif claimed that the EU was attempting to take advantage of the country’s delicate economy and force certain policies on the Maldives.
”The MNCCI had tried to talk with the EU regarding the issue but the EU declined to go for negotiations,” he said, adding that the EU was trying to spread policies that Maldivians do not accept under the guise of human rights.
”But they never directly tell us that their issue is that the Maldives does not have religious freedom,” Asif said.
“They always say under this article of that convention or something like that.”
Asif questioned the capacity in which EU was here in the Maldives and said he will ask the government why the EU was brought here and why the government had given opportunity for such a dangerous group of people.
The EU yesterday revealed details of its first full EU Election Observation Mission to take place in the Maldives, with around 30 observers working to compile a comprehensive report on the entire Majlis elections process.
Asif said the EU delegation might go back and write another report and start taking actions against the country. He suggested that democracy – which he argued was more than observing elections and criticising – could only be strengthened after stabilising the economy of the country.
Businessmen in the Maldives are very concerned that an EU delegation had come to the Maldives after taking measures that would harm the economy of the country, Asif said.
”While they had taken these actions against us they did not consider that the Maldives is the country that does fishing the most environmentally friendly way,” he said.
The EU was doing anything they want to the Maldives because it is a small country, he argued, adding that all they do is provide funds for local NGOs to spread their propaganda.
”Maldivians can decide anything they want to decide when they want to decide it,” he said.
The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value.
Until January 2014 those exports were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.
The Maldives applied for an extension under the ‘GSP+’ program, a unilateral trade concession of the EU given to a limited number of countries on the basis of good implementation of human rights are labor conventions, officials said, however did not qualify due to the country’s reservations to ICCPR on religious freedom and CEDAW concerning women’s rights.
The total fish catch has been declining each year since 2006 reaching 83.1 thousand metric tonnes in 2011, leading to fears about the impact of climate change and overfishing by better equipped fishing fleets on the borders of the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In November last year, the government said that the Maldives will look to alternative fish export markets, including the middle-eastern and the Malaysian market.
Asif was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News today.
Under the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions is criminalised. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport, while politicians frequently use allegations of ‘consorting with missionaries’ as a political attack.