How to export Seafood to the EU

An Expert's View about Fishing in France

Last updated: 31 Aug 2011

I- Introduction

A) Scope of the report:

Given the complexity of the E.U. legislation, this report provides an overview of key E.U. legislation governing trade in edible seafood products. It does not intend to answer all questions; any additional comments or concerns should be addressed to specific competent authorities (see Points of Contacts at the end of the report).

B) Background:

Twenty-seven countries compose the European Union (E.U.). The current Member States (MS) are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Malta, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The E.U. population is approximately 500 million people since the accession of Bulgaria and Romania on January 1, 2007. The decision to integrate Turkey is still in discussion.

C) The Institutions:

The E.U. has seven different institutions that function in many ways as the different branches of the U.S. government:

The European Commission is the E.U. executive body. It has three main tasks: to initiate E.U. policies, to act as the guardian of E.U. treaties and to supervise implementation of E.U. law. The Commission is divided in 32 directorates general (DG), of which DG Mare, DG Sanco for food safety consumer policy and public health protection. A college of 27 Commissioners, named by their national governments but supposedly independent, heads the Mission.

The Council of the EU consists of ministers from the national governments of all the EU Member States. Each MS is in his turn president of the Council for six months. The Council shares with the European Parliament the responsibility for passing laws and taking policy decisions. It also bears the responsibility for what the EU does in the field of the common foreign and security policy and for EU action on some justice and freedom issues. The Council has working parties and permanent or special committees consisting of representatives from MS. The best known is the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States, the COREPER.

The European Council refers to the regular meetings of the heads of state in the European Union, (EU) responsible for defining the general political direction and priorities of the Union. It comprises the heads of states or government of EU member states, along with its President and the President of the Commission. While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is an institution that deals with major issues and any decisions made are "a major impetus in defining the general political guidelines of the European Union". The Council meets at least twice every six months.

The European Parliament is elected every five years by the people of Europe to represent their interests. The core mission of the European Parliament is to pass European laws. It shares this responsibility with the Council of the EU and the proposals for new laws come from the European Commission. It has the power to dismiss the European Commission. The European Parliament gained power over time. From an advisory-only body, it can now veto legislation in certain areas such as consumer protection, health, environment or the single market. Most of EU Legislation is now adopted according to the co-decision procedure of which the European Parliament is one of the two pillars.

The European Court of Justice rules on disputes involving interpretation and application of the E.U. treaties and legislation. It makes sure that EU law is interpreted and applied in the same way in all MS. The Court is located in Luxemburg and has one judge from each MS.

The European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors are the two last EU institutions

D) European legislative process:

The Lisbon Treaty that entered into force on December 1, 2009 makes the European Parliament a stronger lawmaker by bringing over 40 new fields within the "co-decision" procedure, under which Parliament has equal rights with the Council. These areas include agriculture, energy security, immigration, justice and home affairs, health and structural funds and fisheries In the Council of Ministers, qualified majority voting, instead of unanimous decisions, has been extended. This will help to make action faster and more efficient.

Qualified majority voting means that, from 2014, decisions of the Council of Ministers will need the support of 55% of the Member States, representing at least 65% of the European population. This system gives double legitimacy to decisions.

Strict rules will apply to any proposals to move new policy areas to majority voting. Every Member State must agree to any such change and the national parliaments will have a right of veto.

Given the complexity of the co-decision procedure, the most important thing to notice at that stage of the report is that it usually takes more than a year between the first reading of the Commission’s proposal and its final adoption by the Council.

E) What are the different types of measures?

Regulations:

A Regulation is a law that is binding and directly applicable in all Member States without any implementing national legislation. Both the Council and the Commission can adopt regulations. UExample:U Council Regulation (EC) No 1093/94 of 6 May 1994 setting the terms under which fishing vessels of a third country may land directly and market their catches at Community ports.

Directives:

A Directive is a law binding on the Member States as to the result to be achieved, but the choice of method is their own. In practice, national implementing legislation in form deemed appropriate in each Member State is necessary in most cases.

This is an important point, as businesses affected by a directive have to take account of the national implementing legislation as well as the directive.

All directives set a date by which Member States have to transpose it in National legislation. After that date, in case of non-implementation, the Directive should remain the basis in case of dispute. The Commission can act against Member States that have not implemented the Directive in time.

Example: Council Directive 91/493 laying down the health conditions for the production and the placing on the market of fishery products.

Decisions:

A Decision is binding entirely on those to whom it is addressed. No National implementing legislation is required. Both the Council and the Commission can adopt decisions. Since 1995, the European Parliament can be associated to the adoption process on a limited number of issues. UExample:U Commission Decision 95/328 laying down certain transitional measures concerning the certification of fishery products from third countries in order to facilitate the switch over to the arrangements laid down in Council Directive 91/493/EEC.

Recommendations:

A Recommendation has no binding effect (it is not a law). Both the Council and the Commission can adopt recommendations.

Example: Commission Recommendation 92/540 concerning a coordinated program for the official control of foodstuffs for 1993.

F) Cross-cutting responsibilities

DG Mare handles negotiations of international fishing agreements, resources management, aquaculture, fleet management, and makes the Common Fishery Policy (CFP). It also makes proposals for tariff reduction, tariff suspensions and import quotas. It acts as aid to DG Trade, part of which is the E.U. equivalent to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for WTO matters.

Some species are subject to trade restrictions under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, which is covered by DG Environment. So DG Mare and DG Environment are working closer and closer due to the current status of worldwide fish resources.

But fishery products are also subject to measures taken by DG Agriculture and DG Internal Market, and to the supervision of DG Sanco. DG Agriculture handles the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and all “vertical” measures on raw material. All these DGs make proposals on all E.U. measures concerning sanitary legislation and inspection, by type of products (beef, pork, poultry, vegetables, seafood, etc).

DG Internal Market deals with “horizontal” measures for processed products. Together with DG Sanco, they make legislation n additives, microbiological criteria, colorings, antibiotics, and labeling. All those texts refer to “foodstuffs”.

DG Sanco is in charge of all scientific committees that advise DG Internal Market and DG Agriculture on matters concerning consumer health. DG Sanco includes also the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO based in Ireland).

The FVO principal missions are to monitor the observance of food hygiene, veterinary and plant health legislation within the European Union, and to contribute towards the maintenance of confidence in the safety of foods offered to European consumers. The FVO is responsible for auditing Member States’ competent authorities, and to inspect third countries for compliance and/or equivalency to E.U. legislation.

A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been formally created on January 28, 2002. EFSA covers risk assessment as well as risk communication. The responsibility of risk management a decision-making remains into EU’s Political Institutions’ hands. Two main sets of legislation greatly influence U.S. seafood exports to the EU: the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Food Hygiene Legislation.

The CFP establishes a legal framework for the regulation of fisheries and aquaculture activities. It has a direct impact on the EU’s production capacity through fleet and quotas management. Therefore it can directly influence imports of seafood from third countries such as the U.S. The Food Hygiene Legislation is the EU’s instrument that guarantees safe food to European consumers. It makes sure that “domestically made” as well as imported food complies with minimum EU’s hygiene standards.

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Posted: 31 August 2011, last updated 31 August 2011

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