In June, when the government of Belize took over the International Merchant Marine Registry, Immarbe from the Ashcroft Alliance and a Panamanian Law firm called Morgan and Morgan, a major part of the reason was that - with Immarbe in private hands - Belize faced international sanctions from the European Union because of the high seas fisheries fleet carrying Belizean flags.
Now, to make it clear, these vessels have nothing to do with true Belizean fishers or vessels; Immarbe sells the Belize flag as a flag of convenience to international fishing vessels. For years, the European Union had been complaining that Immarbe doesn't have the regulatory oversight to properly police these vessels, which could be engaging in illegal activities on the high seas.
Well, the government takeover should have brought some order to that, and followed by the High Seas Fishing Bill which has been tabled in the House, but not yet passed. To government's thinking, those measures should have allayed the fears of the European Union about a rogue fleet. It should have, but it didn't; seems the European Union wants deeds, not words.
Today, news came out that the European Commission has proposed an EU-wide ban on fisheries imports from Cambodia, Belize and Guinea, saying they had not done enough to stamp out illegal fishing.
A memo from the European Commission dated yesterday says
"out of the 8 countries who received a warning in 2012, only Belize, Cambodia and Guinea have not made credible progress in fulfilling their duties under international law and have failed to improve the situation."
The memo explains that quote, "The European Commission will also submit a proposal…to place Belize (and the other countries) on the list of non-cooperating countries," end quote.
When that goes through - and it's pretty much automatic, fisheries products caught by vessels flying the flag of these countries cannot be imported into the EU. But that doesn't affect imports directly from Belize - such as aquaculture exports from Belize - those can still be exported to Europe. But, the monitoring continues - and if the EU sees Belize making no tangible progress, then those legitimate Belizean exports would be also be blacklisted.
So how did it come to this? Well, it seems that the High Seas Bill crafted by government didn't satisfy the Europeans. And that's mainly because it puts Immarbe to regulate a fishing fleet with which it also has a commercial, business relationship. Additionally, even with the government takeover, Immarbe still does not have the resources institutional or human to properly police and regulate a high seas fleet.
In the near term, it's a very major black eye for Belize which is now blacklisted as a country that is encouraging illegal fishing.
In the medium term, government can prove that it is taking tangible action to rehabilitate itself, but it seems that would mean scrapping the High Seas bill as it is presently drafted.
We'll keep following the story.