Thailand confident it can clean up act following EU fish ban threat

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's agriculture minister said on Wednesday he had confidence in measures designed to combat illegal fishing after the European Union gave the country six months to clean up its act.

Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter, was issued a "yellow card" and risks an embargo on its fish exports in October unless it cracks down on illegal fishing.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, put Thailand on formal notice on Tuesday for not taking sufficient measures in the fight illegal fishing.

It has been given six months to "implement a corrective tailor-made action plan".

Thailand's agriculture ministry has announced a six-point plan to combat illegal fishing including plans to use vessel monitoring systems, a satellite-based system that allows organizations to monitor the position, time, course and speed of fishing boats. "We are confident that we will be able to implement the various policies of the ministry and can create understanding with our fisheries brothers and sisters," Agriculture Minister Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya said at a press conference.

Thailand's largest animal feed and meat producer Charoen Pokphand Foods said on Wednesday it expects no impact on sales and operations after the warning.

Thailand's fishing industry employs over 300,000 people, many of them illegal migrant workers from neighbouring countries who are often subject to ill-treatment.

The industry's reputation has been tarnished by instances of human trafficking to meet manpower demand, forced labour and violence.

Thailand shipped nearly US$700 million (S$940 million) of fish products to the EU in 2014, accounting for nearly 3 per cent of total EU fish imports. "Thailand is deeply disappointed at the EU's decision," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The EU had chosen to ignore Thailand's efforts over the past six months to address the issues, the ministry said, which was a"source of grave discouragement".

The EU imported 145,907 tonnes of fish products worth 642 million euros (S$930 million) from Thailand last year, according to the commission.