The first UK/EU Annual Negotiations: “A trial of strength masked by the language of cooperation”.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations in the UK has called the first UK/EU Annual Negotiations as “A trial of strength masked by the language of cooperation”.
The claim that the first few plenary sessions of the negotiations for a UK/EU fisheries agreement for 2021 have provided a glimpse into the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
The online talks are currently under way in the wake of the NFFO has heralded as a disastrous outcome to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement which concluded on Christmas Eve.
“The terms of that agreement cede automatic access for EU vessels to fish in UK waters (including the 6-12nm zone) for the next 5 1/2 years, writes the NFFO. “The UK, however, retains regulatory autonomy over the rules which apply to all vessels fishing within the UK exclusive economic zone. A major battle now looms as the EU seeks to undermine and dilute that autonomy, whilst simultaneously paying lip service to it.”
The NFFO feel that from the opening round of talks that the EU are trying to tie the UK back into the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The EU has repeatedly talked about convergence between the two blocs but the NFFO has dismissed this as the UK is now an independent coastal state and believe that no EU regulations, which they believed stretched the Commission’s authority to the limits of legality but these are no longer open to it.
The NFFO says, “The EU is therefore manoeuvring to trap the UK into accepting strong linkages between TACs and an array of additional measures. As this first is the first set of annual fisheries negotiations in which the UK is acting as an independent party, both sides recognise that more is at stake than just the arrangements for 2021, important as they are.
“The EU’s objective is in diametrical opposition to the UK’s stated intentions as it left the EU and the CFP,” asserts the NFFO. “The new UK Fisheries Act 2020 provides the means for the UK to diverge from the Common Fisheries Policy. On fisheries, the purpose of leaving the EU and the CFP was to forge a new destiny and do things better than the discredited and cumbersome CFP. There is an obligation, within the TCA to keep the EU informed and to consult – but ultimately and legally this type of decision lies exclusively with the UK.”
The NFFO believe that on the trajectory that the parties are currently on, a point will arrive when it becomes clear that – despite all efforts – an agreement for 2021 is not possible. If this would occur, in these circumstances autonomous quotas will be set by the parties for this year and there are rules in the TCA about how this should be done. The UK would set (non-discriminatory) conditions for all vessels fishing in UK waters and the EU would do likewise for all vessels operating in EU waters. Whilst in Western Waters, the extent UK and EU EEZs are broadly equal, in the North Sea, 80% of the waters are either in the UK or Norwegian zone.
The negotiations are taking place at time when relationships between the two blocs are strained mainly because the UK border controls were not ready for exporting to the EU and a series of red-tape issues has caused the UK seafood businesses dire hardship. On the other side, the EU negotiated a transition period to allow them to prepare for exporting into the UK. This has added to the frustrations and complexities of Brexit after a year long battle with COVID.
The NFFO write, “All this takes place against continuing impediments to the export of fish and shellfish into the EU. Higher costs and a dramatic increase in the quantity and complexity of customs documentation are part and parcel of the UK’s decision to leave the single market and customs union. The difficult conditions faced at the border since the turn of the year– and ensuing delays, fatal to a perishable commodity such as fresh fish and live shellfish, owe more to a complex of factors. These include:
- System and business readiness in different parts of the supply chain and at the Border Control Posts themselves
- Different interpretations of the rules at different EU entry points
- A conflict in interpretation that has led to an effective ban on the import of live bi-valve molluscs into the EU.
“Work is ongoing – principally through the twice weekly meetings of the Exporters Stakeholders Group – to resolve the outstanding issues.”
“And then there is Covid-19. The annual fisheries negotiations are taking place entirely remotely and this imposes important limitations and pressures in this strange and hopefully atypical year.”
Read the NFFO’s full insights here.