Thailand has been for years interested in a free trade deal with the European Union but the negotiations were being held up by inhumane conditions in the Southeast Asian country’s fishing industry. Now, it is Brussels that wants to reopen the talks. The EU took the first step last December when its foreign ministers decided to resume talks with Thailand at all levels – under the condition that the problematic areas are addressed.
As Thailand’s third largest trading partner after China and Japan, the EU is now threatening to stop buying shrimp, tuna and seafood from the country. In 2015, the EU issued two warnings to Bangkok over unregulated fishing. The volume of trade in fish exports into the bloc went down by around €240 million last year compared to 2014. The reason for the faltering business is the partly uncertified fishery business in Thailand, which is against EU import regulations. “The working conditions on the fishing boats are largely catastrophic and border on modern slavery,” SPD Bundestag member Dirk Wiese commented following the 2015 warnings. “Unstable conditions prevail without any protection of the workers.”
The yellow cards that the EU issued in 2015 have been largely effective, with the Thai government having made an effort since 2015 to improve the record of the abuses it was accused of. In particular, Bangkok has improved some important labor law provisions on wages, working hours, security care and provided training to boat officers and their crews. However, Brussels fears that some measures are superficial and do not sufficiently address the workers’ needs.