By Queen Shawn Dok
Manila, Philippines-The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said on Thursday powerful nations led by the United States (US), Japan and influential members of the European Union were the masterminds of the current tuna crisis in the country that sent hundreds of tuna fishing boats idled, and caused thousands of lost jobs in the $ 1 billion industry.
In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said poor member states of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) were coerced by the US, Japan , the EU, Australia, China , New Zealand, South Korea and Canada to close the fishing areas of Micronesia, Indonesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
He said the tuna monopolies in these rich nations want to protect their own tuna industries by blocking the tuna from Western and Central Pacific countries like the Philippines under the guise of environmental protection and tuna resource generation.
The Pamalakaya leader recalled the fishing ban was raised by EU, the world’s biggest market for canned tuna. Hicap said annexed to the issue raised by the EU, directs all tuna sales to continental Europe market now need a “catch certificate” in lieu of the old requirement that only dealt on the physical condition of the fish through a “health certificate.”
“ To set the record straight, industry sources in the tuna industry agreed that the fishing ban under the camouflage of environmental concern. The cruel intention is clear—the tuna ban was meant to decrease tuna coming from the Philippines and neighboring countries to stop them from hurting the sales of EU and US tuna producing companies currently confronted with crisis of overproduced tuna in their respective territories,” added Hicap.
Pamalakaya lamented that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, who have seen the predictable disastrous impact of closing the Western and Central Pacific fishing areas to local tuna industry and tuna workers in General Santos City failed to institute contingency plans how to address the loss of 150,000 jobs among tuna fishermen in Far South Mindanao with the two-year tuna fishing ban.
“The government has no contingency plans to address “the Great Tuna Crisis” of 2010. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her economic advisers are well informed that this job crisis in the tuna industry is in the offing with the imposed two-year ban, but nothing has been done to arrest the issue of labor woes and loss of economic means for tuna fish workers” said Pamalakaya.
“150,000 tuna fishermen will lose their jobs, and around 750,000 people indirectly dependent on the country’s backward tuna fishing industry will also feel the economic disaster of this 2-year tuna ban. So what would be the next move of this government? Tell the poor tuna fishing people to wait for two years for the lifting of the ban?” the group added.
Big players in the tuna industry including corporations in canning of tuna said the closure of high seas for tuna fishing will render idle some 200 fishing boats for the next two years, predicting a 20 percent drop in the supply of tuna in the local and world markets. The tuna industry in General Santos is currently valued at $ 380 million based on annual export figures of 400 metric tons per year.
Pamalakaya noted that while the US, the EU and Japan strongly lobbied for the closure of Western and Central Pacific areas for tuna fish ban, they have their respective free trade agreements with the Philippines urging the country to open up its own tuna fishing territory to tuna fishing vessels of these powerful countries.
The group noted that Japan is gearing to invade the Philippine waters for tuna fishing under the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), while EU and the US also want a share of the country’s territorial waters for tuna under the proposed RP-EU free trade pact and RP-US Free Trade Agreement respectively.
The militant group said under Jpepa, the Philippine government is obliged to allow Japanese tuna factory ships to explore the country’s tuna resources in exchange for taxes derive from the value of harvested tuna from the country’s territorial waters.
Pamalakaya projected that the local tuna industry concentrated in General Santos port city stands to lose P18 billion in profits yearly once Japan tuna fishing fleets start their tuna exploration this year.
On the other hand, Japanese investors are expected to gain at least P43 billion annual profits in tuna trading, he said.
“The devastating impact of JPEPA to the local tuna industry includes the loss of 100,000 jobs provided by the local tuna fishing companies in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City and the Davao regions,” Pamalakaya said.
According to Pamalakaya, a single 3,000-gross ton Japanese factory ship is capable of harvesting 50,000 metric tons of tuna a year or 150 metric tons of tuna per day. Based on industry standards, a single factory ship could earn as much as $32.5 million in gross profits from the sale of skipjack tuna.
Pamalakaya said the bulk of the profit will come from the remaining 35 percent of the 50,000 metric ton tuna catch, which is $210 million. “A single medium size factory ship thus will earn $242.5 million a year, and since Japan at the very least, employs four factory ships in its regular tuna fishing expedition per country, we expect them to earn a total of $ 970 million or P43.5 B per year,” the group said.
At present the local tuna industry yearly produces 400,000 metric tons of tuna, with 15 percent of the production going to domestic market and 85 percent for exports.
The European Union accounts for 40 percent of the country’s fresh and canned tuna exports or roughly 64,000 metric tons per year. The rest of the exports are shipped to tuna markets of Japan and the United States..
Pamalakaya said the government should indefinitely suspend if not abrogate the Jpepa treaty with Japan if it wants the local tuna fishing industry to survive.
“The most logical and objective solution to current predicament of tuna fish workers in Southern Philippines is to abrogate Jpepa and pursue the nationalization of tuna fishing industry by investing finance capital and technology for the inward development of the tuna sector, and this will arrest the rising tide of job loss among tuna fish workers and tuna fishermen,” the group said. #