On Sunday, the EU officially signed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. The language it contains on animals is weak compared to the most recent EU FTAs, particularly as Vietnam is a key country for aquaculture and fisheries, and a recognised hotspot for wildlife trafficking.
Eurogroup for Animals calls on the European Parliament to demand the European Commission makes full use of the single provision on animal welfare cooperation contained in the EU-Vietnam FTA, which foresees technical assistance and capacity building to develop higher animal welfare standards. If well used, this provision could lead to legislative change in the country and therefore to long term progress for animals. This would be key in setting a positive precedent for the future agreements to be signed with other ASEAN countries.
The main animal products Vietnam exports to the EU are fish products, crustaceans and animal skins, and the country is the EU’s second source of frogs’ legs. Internally, Vietnam has recently seen an increase in meat consumption and production, notably in pig meat, beef and chicken, and the aquaculture sector has been steadily growing. Improving farm animal standards will thus be key to ensure the sustainability of the Vietnamese farming sector, and therefore of the trade between both partners in these products. To date, legislation on animal welfare is almost nonexistent in the country, and while smaller producers used to care for their animals, this is changing with the trend towards increased industrialisation.
The text plans a thorough liberalisation for animal products, with barely any tariff-rate quotas left for fish, crustaceans, chicken and some processed products. However, these preferences are not attached to any condition related to respecting animal welfare standards equivalent to those applied in the EU. Even if Vietnam is not yet exporting an important volume of animal products to the EU apart from fish and animal skins, the agreement might change the trade flows, and these imports with lower standards will put pressure on the higher standards of Europe. To mitigate such impact, the agreement contains a provision on possible animal welfare cooperation, including technical assistance and capacity building to develop animal welfare standards. This provision should be fully used to lift up standards for animals in Vietnam.
Regarding wildlife trafficking, the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter commits the parties to implement appropriate effective measures to reduce wildlife trafficking and, with softer language, to cooperate on proposing species to be added to CITES. These provisions are strong compared to other EU FTAs but they remain aspirational, especially in the absence of effective enforcement mechanisms.
The TSD chapter also includes provisions on sustainable management of living marine resources and aquaculture, recognizing the importance of promoting sustainable and responsible aquaculture, “taking into account its economic, social and environmental impact”. These provisions are among the most developed among EU FTAs, but they are missing the important link between a sustainable aquaculture industry and fish welfare standards. By reducing stress and having more robust fish, higher welfare standards allow for a reduction in antibiotics, impacting the animals, the environment and public health. Vietnam’s aquaculture sector, which exported around 72,211 tonnes of catfish (including pangasius) and another 2,820 tonnes of tilapia to the EU in 2018, is known for exceptionally high stocking densities, the heavy use of antibiotics, and poor transport and handling practices. With the EU on the path towards improving its fish welfare standards, the lack of a level playing-field will only grow between both partners, putting pressure on EU fish farmers.
As it stands, the EU-Vietnam agreement does not include any hard mechanism to ensure either the protection of EU’s higher animal welfare standards or progress for animals in Vietnam. Eurogroup for Animals calls on the newly elected members of the European Parliament to raise these concerns in the debates during the ratification process and to call on the Commission to prioritize animal welfare in the implementation by making full use of the relevant provisions.
Stephanie Ghislain, Trade & Animal Welfare Project leader
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