Thailand yesterday got a helping hand from Indonesia with President Joko Widodo accepting Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha's proposal to set up a working group on fisheries and related affairs for solving problems resulting from illegal unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities in foreign countries' territorial waters.
During the two-day Asian-African Leaders' Summit in Jakarta, which ended yesterday, the two leaders agreed to work together to crack down on the use of illegal labour and IUU practices as well as on protection of marine resources via the Thai-Indonesian working group, which would be headed by Thai deputy premier Prawit Wongsuwan and his Indonesian counterpart.
The crucial bilateral co-operation comes at a time when Thailand's fisheries industry has been given an ultimatum by the European Union with the threat to ban Thai products in its lucrative market if the country did not effectively solve IUU problems within the next six months.
Due to its vast territorial waters and abundant marine resources, Indonesia is one of the foreign countries where the Thai fishing fleet has been operating.
According to Yongyuth Maiyarap, the government's chief spokesman, Thailand and Indonesia will sign a memorandum of understanding to co-operate on fisheries and related affairs shortly.
Prayut said Thailand had solved several problems involving the IUU practices but there had been some delays in enforcing additional measures.
He hoped the EU would be patient and give Thailand the opportunity to complete its task. Several laws are involved in tackling the IUU issue and part of the new regulations are still pending in the National Legislative Assembly. He added that the government had earlier exercised its authority under Article 44 of the interim charter to speed up the setting-up of one-stop service centres and would ensure those violating the new fisheries and related laws would be heavily penalised.
Deputy PM and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the government will issue an emergency regulation to effectively solve problems related to IUU practices within the next three months so that the EU may issue a "green" card to Thailand's fisheries sector, which was given the "yellow" card earlier this week. The "yellow" card could lead to a ban on Thai fishery products in the EU market, which is worth Bt20 billion to Bt30 billion annually.
Prawit said he would chair the meeting on solving IUU problems every week, working closely with the agriculture, labour and foreign ministers, as well as their permanent secretaries besides the Navy commander-in-chief and the director-general of Harbour and Fisheries departments.
The government's emergency decree will cover measures to solve illegal fishing, unregulated fishing, and unreported fishing in Thai waters and foreign countries' territorial waters where Thai-registered boats are operating.
EU officials to observe progress
The EU is expected to send a team of officials to observe progress on solutions to the IUU issue next month before it makes the decision whether to ban Thai fishery products in its market later this year.
Thailand's new fisheries act will include measures that would modernise regulations for the Thai fishing fleet and other related issues so as to meet EU and international standards.
Over the next two months, Prawit said a task force will be responsible for communicating with EU officials on progress of the government's work, especially with regard to new rules and regulations that would be enforced on coastal fishing in the country's 22 provinces.
Prawit said Article 44 of the interim charter might not be necessary in solving the IUU problems, which could be better handled by the issuing of an emergency decree.
Meanwhile, Surapong Kuang-jantuek, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission's subcommittee on migrant workers and related issues, said he would support the government's use of Article 44 of the interim charter to enforce rules and regulations of the new fisheries act.