Why EU canneries oppose the development in the pacific?

Tuna industry members from several parts of the world convene in Vigo to discuss a range of subjects. One of the major issues on the agenda will be the EPA of Papua New Guinea with the European Union. This EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) will let PNG export canned tuna and also pre-cooked frozen tuna loins to the European Union at a zero duty tariff, whatever the origin of the tuna is. So any tuna purse seiner, which is not IUU and which is EU health approved, can deliver tuna to a PNG tuna processing plant for export to the European Union. PNG obtained this exceptional preference so the country can built its own processing industry, create much needed jobs, and economic spin-off. But ANFACO –the coalition of Spanish tuna canners– by all means wants to block this agreement and any expansion of the canning sector in PNG.

Last week, another tuna conference took place at the other side of the world. In Palau the Pacific Tuna Forum 2011 brought together the fishing and processing companies active within the waters of the Western Central Pacific Ocean, and also a small crowd from several other countries. But nobody from Spain, which is surprising given the fact that PNG has been inviting Spanish companies to invest in their country. After all, Spain has one of the world’s largest tuna fleets and also its industry is quite active in tuna processing around the world. Over the last 2 decades, new plants have been set up in Mauritius, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil. To attract Spanish and other EU industry investors, PNG even organized a special investment meeting earlier this year during the ESE, the PNA Summit. But so far, nothing has been heard about any commercial interest from Spain, when at the same time investors from Asian countries are flocking in.

The main argument of ANFACO to oppose the EPA with Papua is that it will kill valuable Spanish tuna manufacturing jobs. Jobs that are held by women and men in a country which is struggling with a 20 percent unemployment rate. Jobs that according to ANFACO soon will be taken over on the other side of the world by Papuas, who will pack canned tuna aimed at their Spanish market. The market with the worlds highest per capita consumption of canned tuna. This noble argument of wanting to save European jobs and to support struggling Spanish families is heard in Brussels and some politicians have started to doubt if the privileges given to Papua New Guinea should be continued.

The care for maintaining subsidized tuna processing jobs in Spain, however, has hardly been the main focus of ANFACO’s members over the last decade. With great ambition and success, Spanish canners have been building new processing plants in Latin America; state of the art facilities that were constructed with the purpose of obtaining valuable tuna fishing rights in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and to have the landed tuna cleaned against considerable lower costs than in their homeland.; cleaned in countries with low wages, which have also duty free access to the EU market. This migration of jobs across the Atlantic was justified by the argument that without outsourcing the work of cleaning tuna to low wage countries, the domestic tuna processing industry would no longer be able to compete against the low cost competitor Thailand. Consequently, tens of thousands of jobs in Galicia have been lost and no effort has been made by ANFACO members to stop them from disappearing. Till this day, hardly any Thai canned tuna can be found in Spanish supermarkets.

As a result of these developments, ANFACO members have now moved an important part of their financial assets and investments towards tuna purse seiners and tuna plants in Latin America, far away from Spain. What has been left in Europe are highly automated canneries which pack tuna that was loined- pre-cooked and frozen overseas, and are marketed under the brands Calvo, Nostromo, Isabel, Ranxiera, Salica or under retailers’ private labels. Calvo is supplying pre-cooked loins from El Salvador and Brazil, Isabel from Ecuador and Colombia, Jealsa/Ranxiera from Guatamala , and Salica/ Albacora from Ecuador. Luckily for them, Latin American economies have recovered from their crisis and are showing healthy economic growth again, creating a rising demand for canned tuna by consumers there. This is generating promising new opportunities for these brands to venture through their new factories into these emerging Spanish speaking markets.

Considering all these successful strategic moves by Spanish tuna industrials, it is hard to understand why they are now becoming so worried about jobs of their higher paid workers at home. So far, Papua New Guinea has only 2 medium size canneries exporting to the European Union and these have mostly been running at half capacity for the last 5 years. Their share of total canned imports in the entire EU never exceeded 4%, hardly anything went to Spain. So if Papua is not a threat, and if it is not the jobs what Spain is worried about, then: what are these Spanish industry players really concerned about? The answer is: a lack of “origin tuna”.

In order for the 4 leading members of ANFACO to export canned tuna and tuna loins from their Latin American factories to Spain at zero duty, the GSP+ agreement requires that the tuna processed is caught by European vessels or tuna boats from the country of origin, which we call “rules of origin tuna” or “origin tuna”. With catches in the Eastern Pacific Ocean at their maximum, and with already 2 tuna fishing bans in the area each year, this region does not provide any possibilities for expansion of catches of “origin tuna”. Expansion, which is urgently needed to meet the growing appetite for canned skipjack tuna by the Latin American consumers, and to fuel the growth of the Spanish owned brands overseas. If these cans are going to be filled with “origin tuna” caught by -for example- Ecuadorian boats, not enough “origin tuna” will be available anymore for duty free import into Spain and other EU markets. If this supply would become tight, this could also drive Eastern Pacific tuna prices higher than in the Western Pacific.

This growing gap in the supply of raw material for South American markets, can be bridged in 2 ways. More “Non-origin” tuna has to come from the distant Western part of the Pacific Ocean, and this tuna should be exclusively used for the Latin consumers. This way all “origin tuna” from the EPO can continue to flow as mostly loins to the Spanish canneries. Without this supply, the Galician tuna industry could collapse and that indeed would wipe out the remaining jobs.

With the main interest being skipjack tuna, the rich waters of Papua New Guinea in the Western Pacific Ocean, are the most important source of this “non – origin tuna”. Here vessels from the USA, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China and Philippines are catching skipjack which is badly needed for the growth of the canning industry in Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chili, and Colombia. In order for the Spanish-owned Latin canneries to secure the skipjack, at competitive prices, it is important that this raw material does not flow to canneries in Papua New Guinea. If the EPA would lead to any growth in the amount of canneries and jobs in Papua New Guinea, this would derail the highly ambitious plans of the ANFACO members in South America and Europe.

Therefore, it is of the greatest importance to the Spanish tuna sector to blast –during the coming 2 days- the message to European politicians and to the media that valuable Spanish jobs will be lost. Jobs that certainly should not be given to people of Papua New Guinea who own the strategic tuna resources, and in whose waters the fish is caught. ANFACO seems also worried that the Papua’s will be working under poor social conditions, and that factories might be using child labor. This is a popular and political sensitive subject when in one own’s country one fifth of the working population is jobless. Such “social concerns” were not heard when Spanish-owned loining and canning plants were established in Ecuador, one of the world’s poorest countries. Instead ANFACO proudly boasts that its members have created over 220.000 indirect jobs in Latin America. They failed to mention how many workers consequently got unemployed in Spain.

If the European Union was to stand by the continuation of the EPA with Papua New Guinea, and the favorable conditions that come with it, it is likely that ANFACO will demand compensation for its members. Compensation that could be sought in giving more Spanish owned super seiners access to the rich waters of Papua New Guinea or the PNA. That would enable these vessels to not only fish the entire high seas of the EPO, but also within in Western Central Pacific Ocean, creating the much desired expansion in the supply of “origin Tuna” for the Latin tuna canneries. Surely this will create more jobs in South and Central America, but not in Spain!