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Maldives seeks duty-free fish exports to European Union

A request was made at the annual policy dialogue with EU ambassadors.



The Maldives government on Monday asked the European Union to consider granting duty free access to fisheries products, the country’s chief export.

The request was made at the fourth annual policy dialogue with EU ambassadors at the Kurumba resort near the capital Malé.

“The EU took note of the request but highlighted the requirement for the Maldives to fully comply with [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated] fishing regulations,” reads a joint statement.

“The EU Member States also took note of the Government’s request to explore the means of facilitating the Schengen Visa process in the Maldives.”

After the meeting, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said the EU delegation gave assurances of working to reduce the 24 percent tariff presently levied for fish exports.

The annual dialogue did not take place last year due to strained diplomatic relations and the isolation of the Maldives under the previous government, he added.

During the previous administration, former president Abdulla Yameen had repeatedly claimed revoked duty-free status for Maldives tuna was revoked over the refusal to allow religious freedom and homosexual rights, an allegation denied by the EU.

The Maldives was previously eligible for a Generalised Scheme of Preferences that offered full removal of tariffs to developing countries that ratify and implement core international conventions.

The GSP tariff reductions were revoked in 2013 after the Maldives graduated from least developed country status, prior to which 40 percent of its fisheries products were exported to the EU, its single largest partner by value.

In 2013, fisheries minister Ahmed Shafeeu said an application for a year’s extension was refused as the Maldives had not ratified all 27 required international conventions. His successor, Mohamed Shainee, said the same in 2014.

Ahead of the presidential election last year, Yameen also claimed that the Maldives had been warned of a ban on fish exports as part of targeted sanctions over human rights abuses and the jailing of his political opponents.

The Maldives fisheries industry performed strongly in 2017 with the volume of exports growing by 55 percent in annual terms and amounting to 72.0 thousand metric tonnes. But exports declined in the first half of 2018.

 – Reform agenda –

According to the joint statement, discussions at Monday’s policy forum focused on governance, judicial reform, human rights and climate change.

“As this was the first Policy Dialogue since the inauguration of the new government, the EU offered its congratulations and welcomed the ambitious reform agenda,” it noted.

After the Maldives delegation “shared its policies and priorities” along with the new administration’s 100-day action plan, “the EU and the Maldives agreed to explore opportunities to strengthen the judicial system and the rule of law in the Maldives, including respect for civil and political rights.”

In his opening statement at the meeting, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid expressed appreciation to the EU “for the strong stance taken in recent history, whenever the Maldives deviated from the democratic path.”

He noted recent “scoping visits of EU experts” focused on strengthening the legal and judicial framework, implementing anti-corruption measures, and supporting counter-violent extremism efforts.

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath explained plans to introduce judicial reforms with changes to administration, court structures, and legal procedures.

The Department of Judicial Administration would be restructured as “a separate body, run by the Chief Judicial Administrator, whose appointment and removal will rest with the parliamentary standing committee on independent institutions,” he said.

The Judicial Service Commission, a 10-member oversight body, “will be empowered to observe proper implementation of evaluation mechanisms for judges, timely enforcement of disciplinary measures and adequate transparency in their decision making.”

Court registrars would also be empowered “to enable them to make decisions on case admissibility and case management, and generally enabling them to assume responsibility for the all administrative work across all tiers of the judiciary.”

Later on Monday, the EU delegation paid a courtesy call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

The brief discussions “focused primarily around the Maldives’ political situation, with especial regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections, due to be held next month,” the president’s office said.

Solih reiterated commitment to ensuring free and fair elections and expressed eagerness to engage with the EU and enhance trade with member states.

“Similarly, the Ambassadors discussed ways to facilitate investment and economic cooperation between EU States and the Maldives.”