Pres discusses tariffs placed on Maldives' fish exports to Europe

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Sunday discussed the current tariffs placed on Maldives’ fish exports to European Union (EU).

During a meeting held with Paola Pampaloni, the Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific Department at the European External Action Service (EEAS) on Sunday, the president discussed ways in which the Maldives-EU relations can be further strengthened.

According to the President's Office, the President stressed on Maldives’ interest to ease the current tariffs placed on Maldives’ fish exports to the EU, and reforming its tax regime.

President Solih and Ms Pampaloni further deliberated on easing visa restrictions on Maldivians travelling to EU countries, said the President's Office. The President expressed his hopes that more EU member states would partner with Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS Global) to provide visa services for Maldivian travellers.

The President's Office also revealed that President Solih and Ms Pampaloni discussed ways to strengthen further cooperation in the field of combatting terrorism and violent extremism. The meeting concluded with the President and Ms Pampaloni expressing their keenness on increasing partnerships and building people-to-people contact between the Maldives and EU member countries, said the President's Office.

The Maldives has been attempting to find a solution to the high duty tariffs charged when exporting fish products to the EU. While the archipelago usually exports fish to Europek nations, a 24% duty fee is imposed on fish exported to the EU.

When the small island archipelago was listed under Least Developed Countries (LDC), the tariffs imposed on fish exports were not applicable under EU's Generalised System of Preference. The Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP, is a preferential tariff system which provides tariff reduction on various products. 40% of Maldivian fish exports were to Europe at the time. However, after Maldives graduated from from Least Developed Countries (LDC) to the developing countries list, the country lost its GSP benefits.

In 2015, a new tariff system, GSP+ targeted for developing countries was introduced by the EU. However, the Maldives did not qualify for the leniencies given under the system as the archipelago was not part of 27 international treaties. While The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) calls for freedom of religion, this is a clause that stands in the way of Maldives signing the treaty.

During August last year, EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini visited the Maldives on an official capacity. In her capacity as the Vice President for the European Commission, Mogherini spoke positively on the possibility of reducing tariffs for tuna-based products that the Maldives exports to EU countries.

At the time, Mogherini had stated that the EU cannot grant tariff reductions and exemptions to countries against the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, while the vulnerable economy of a small country like the Maldives is highly dependent on the export of fish products to Europe, possible solutions to the issue were discussed; one of which discussed the establishment of a Free Trade Agreement between the Maldives and EU.

"Personally, I believe a Free Trade Agreement could solve the duty issue," Mogherini had said, noting that it would take a substantial amount of time to work out such a complex issue.