Fish exporters say they welcome initiatives by the European Union to improve their ability to take advantage of duty-free access to the market, but say most fish and fish-product exporters lack the knowledge and capacity to meet the stringent requirements of European importers.
U Myo Nyunt, whose company GeneralFood Technology and Industry exported to Europe before Myanmar’s labour violations cost it its duty-free access more than a decade ago, said he welcomes any attempt by the European Union to help exporters benefit from its generalised scheme of preferences, which provides least developed countries like Myanmar with duty- and quota-free access to its market.However, he said that most domestic fish and fish-product exporters lack the technology to provide products suitable for the European market.
Daw Toe Nandar Tin, treasurer of the Myanmar Fishery Products Processorsand Exporters Association, said anythingthat helps association members increase exports is “good news” because they are struggling with rising costs and declining sales.
The EU will spend a total of €14 million (US$ 18.2 million, K18.6 billion) over the next four years to help Myanmar exporters increase their ability to access the 28-state single market, officials at the European delegation to Myanmar told The Myanmar Times on August 8.
The funds comprise a €1 million technical assistance program that is already underway and two new programs whose budgets are set to be approved, said Alistair MacDonald, chargè d’affaires at the delegation. The first is a €10 million four-year trade development program and the second a €3 program to help set up a European Chamber of Commerce here, he added.
Alberto Menghini, a program officer with the delegation, said training is underway for government officials on how to prove products exported from Myanmar were produced here to ensure that other countries do not attempt to pass their exports off as Myanmar exports in order to gain tariff exemption. He also said health officials here are working closely with their counterparts in Europe to ensure systems are in place to test food products for safety. Myanmar’s GSP status was restored last month, but it is retroactive for one year, meaning that exports to the European Union from June 2012 are tax-free and duties paid can be refunded. Members of the Myanmar Fishery Products Processors and Exporters Association, however, say that there is little understanding about how the GSP works. U Htin Aye, managing director of fish exporter Shwe Ya Mone, said some exporters are also having difficultly establishing links with EU importers because it has been almost a decade since they traded with Europe.Those who exported to Europe without GSP benefits lowered their prices to compensate for this, he said. Since the reinstatement of GSP, however, importers have not paid higher prices, he added. Despite the uncertainty among Myanmar exporters, companies from the region have stated a strong interest in investing in Myanmar’s fisheries sector since GSP benefits were restored, said U Han Htun, a Myanmar Fisheries Federation executive committee member.“Thai companies have joined the Myanmar Shrimp Association (MSA) because they want to invest in farms,” he said.
“If they can make a deal they will build a lot of new farms to grow freshwaterand saltwater prawn. They will be export the prawn to the EU under GSP terms,” he said.Before the Myanmar was readmitted to the EU’s GSP list, a total of 13 domestic companies had obtained EU quality control certificates allowing them to ship products to the bloc. Since June, another company has obtained the relevant certificate and four others are working with the Department of Fisheries to try and earn certificates, a department spokesperson said.