Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

Unkonventionelle Lösungen für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft

Have your fishcake and eat it

Posted by hkarner - 6. Juli 2017

Date: 05-07-2017
Source: The Economist

A spat about seafood shows the compromises that Brexit will force

Legally complex, hard to enforce and probably bad for Britain: fishing is a case study of the negotiations

BRITAIN’S fishing industry is a tiddler, contributing less than 0.1% of GDP. But the island nation has great affection for its fleet. During last year’s Brexit referendum campaign, a flotilla of trawlermen steamed up the Thames to protest against European Union fishing quotas. On July 2nd Michael Gove, the Brexiteer environment secretary (who claims that his father’s Aberdeen fish business was sunk by EU rules), announced that Britain would “take back control” of its waters by unilaterally withdrawing from an international fishing treaty.

Gutting such agreements is strongly supported by coastal communities. The pro-Brexit press cheered Mr Gove’s bold announcement. But landing a new deal for British fishermen will be legally complex, expensive to enforce, oblige Britain to observe European rules that it has had no hand in setting and, most likely, leave its businesses and consumers worse off than before. It is, in other words, a case study of the Brexit negotiations as a whole.The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was drawn up before Britain joined, to its disadvantage. But membership has allowed Britain to improve the policy. Countries’ quotas are now set on a basis that is more scientific than political. Unwanted fish can no longer be discarded at sea, which has helped to reverse the depletion of stocks.

Unpicking decades of tangled legal agreements will be harder than it looks. Mr Gove has initiated Britain’s withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention. But Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, argues that this 1964 agreement has since been superseded by the CFP. Regardless of these conventions, foreign fishermen may claim historic fishing rights going back decades or even centuries. Many of them have set up units in Britain to buy quotas from British fishermen. Unless the government overturns these property rights by decree, it may face a large compensation bill.

In any case, Britain will find that, unless it is willing to continue sharing access to its waters, it will lose access to valuable foreign markets. Consider Norway, which as a non-EU member has control of its own waters. It nonetheless co-operates with the EU and other countries over fish quotas in 90% of them, in order to maintain its own fishermen’s access to fisheries inside the EU.

Of the 700,000 tonnes of fish landed in Britain each year, some 500,000 is exported, two-thirds of it to the EU. Without a mutual deal, which would surely include giving European fishermen some access to British waters, those exports would face World Trade Organisation tariffs of 12%. In the past the EU has responded to fishing disputes with Norway and the Faroe islands by banning all imports. British fishermen would soon find that, to borrow a phrase from the Brexiteers, “we need them more than they need us”.

Consumers would notice, too, since most of the fish on British dinner plates is imported. A third of it comes from the EU, and British fishermen net about a sixth of their total catch in French, Belgian, Dutch, Danish or Irish waters.

Britons may decide that they are willing to pay higher prices for the privilege of banning foreign vessels from British waters. But such a rule would have to be enforced, at extra cost. The “cod wars” with Iceland in the 1950s-70s saw gunboats deployed to protect fisheries. Some Brexiteers would doubtless enjoy such a muscular exertion of sovereignty. But for ordinary Britons who, since the referendum, have endured a squeeze on incomes comparable to that during the financial crisis of 2008, the fishing industry is a red herring. The aviation business is bracing for a hard exit. The finance industry, which contributes 7% of GDP, is in danger of decamping. Britain’s Brexit negotiators have bigger fish to fry.

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