The government has said that the Maldives will look to alternative fish export markets, including the middle-eastern and the Malaysian market, after withdrawing its application for European Union (EU) duty-free status of imported fish from the country.
Earlier this November, the EU declined to extend the duty-free status on Maldivian fish exports under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program – a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries – as the government had not ratified all 27 required international conventions.
During a press conference held by three cabinet ministers on Thursday afternoon, Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon told the press that the decision to withdraw the application for extension under the ‘GSP+’ program was because the government was informed by the EU’s Brussels mission that the application would possibly be rejected.
“The matter with EU’s relief of duty to Maldivian fisheries exports relate to our reservations towards freedom of religion and other conventions. These reservations were taken because it contradicts the fundamentals of Islam and our constitution,” Dhunya explained.
“If we get rejected that means the Maldives is getting a bad label. Such a rejection would be informed to all European nations in the EU. So to avoid the dire circumstances of that, which would affect the country’s reputation, we have decided to withdraw our application,” she added.
EU officials earlier confirmed to Minivan News that the transitional period of trade concessions for the Maldives was due to expire as the Maldives from 2011 was not longer considered a developing country.
The Maldives applied for an extension under the ‘GSP+’ program, a unilateral trade concession given to a limited number of countries on the basis of good implementation of human rights and labour conventions, officials said.
Officials stated that the Maldives did not qualify due to the country’s reservations to ICCPR on religious freedom and CEDAW concerning women’s rights.
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.
Foreign Minister Dhunya however described the withdrawal as a silver lining, elaborating on the fact that the country’s fisheries export should not be dependant upon just one single market.
“I make it clear that we are not running out of friends in the international community,” Dhunya said.
In a bid to counter a the impact of the decision the government announced the formation of a Fisheries Promotion Board (FPB) that will work on promoting Maldivian fisheries products to none-EU markets.
“I believe, if we can promote our products through the Fisheries Promotion Board, we can overcome the difficulties we would face from this change of arrangements” said the new Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee.
Secondly, the government announced that the Maldives’ fish products will be certified as a ‘Halal product’ in the future. Minister Shainee said that the government had been analysing other possible markets including middle-eastern markets and the Malaysian market.
“There are many markets around the world for us to export fisheries products. However, one of the main difficulties in penetrating such markets earlier was that we did not have a Halal certification on our products,” Shainee said.
“Today President Yameen has decided to give the legal mandate on issuing Halal certification to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs,” said Minister Shainee.
Minister Shainee also said that, although the Maldives will not be entitled to the GSP+ incentives, the fish exports to Europe will not come to a halt.
Rather, he described it as a change in the price of fish rather than an obstruction to exporting of Maldivian fisheries products.
“It is just that we will from now onwards be selling fish in a very competitive market,” Shainee said.
When inquired about involving foreign investors in developing the Maldivian Fisheries industry, Shainee said that the government did not wish to involve foreign investors as the fisheries sector formed part of Maldives’ primary industries and privatizing such could have detrimental effects on the economy.
The minister however said that that the government envisions diversification of the fisheries industry and the introduction of new forms of fishing that would further boost the industry.
“We want to diversify the market. There are varieties of sub-industries that we can develop including Mari-culture. However the government has not yet decided whether to seek foreign investments yet to develop those sub-industries,” Shainee said.
Meanwhile, the Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed said that apart from friendly Islamic countries and Malaysia, the government has held extensive talks with Russia and China regarding a possible entry into their markets.