Shrimp export in peril:

 Environmentalists in Europe launch campaign

Mostafa Kamal Majumder

Shrimp producing and processing industries in Bangladesh brace for increased pressure in the near future as European consumers have started a campaign against their import in view of the damages that these industries cause to the environment.In Sweden the campaign has been spearheaded by the influential and widely respected Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature (SSCN), Mans Lonnoroth, Managing Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, told a group of environmentalists in Stockholm last week. The Shrimp exporters of Bangladesh who have in the last few years struggled hard to satisfy European consumers by meeting the sanitation and hygienic requirements in shrimp processing as demanded by the European Commission, will now have no alternative than to spend a part of their income on research and development to find sustainable ways of shrimp production in order to stay competitive in the export market.The extensive damage to mangrove forests and loss of agricultural land that shrimp production has caused in a number of countries including Bangladesh fuel the campaign against the import of the "giant shrimp". Environmentalists not only in Europe but also in Bangladesh have for a long time been terming the existing method of shrimp production unsustainable in that it is not only depleting the resource base but also threatening the coastal ecosystem.Shrimp and other frozen foods account for nearly one out of every ten dollars of total export earnings of Bangladesh each year. Export earnings from shrimp fluctuated in the eighties. Since 1992-93 export earnings from the sector has been increasing steadily from 314 million US dollars to about 600 million US dollars in 1998-99, relevant official figures show. Indications are clear that the donor governments might take the campaign against shrimp import seriously in the near future, because they are investing a lot of money not only to ensure a clean environment for their citizens but also direct a significant part of their official development assistance (ODA) towards arresting environmental degradation in the rest of the world. "We spent billions of dollars to protect our citizens from health hazards that were associated with pollution of water, soil and air. For the same reason we cannot allow such imports that might once again put them into health risks. We also cannot encourage the destruction of the natural resources base on which the complex ecosystem depends," he said. Eva Smith, Deputy Director General of the Swedish Environment Protection Agency, said that in line with European Union strategy Sweden pursued a policy of reducing the generation of wastes, recycling and reusing those with a view to optimising final disposal of such wastes, and the further improving the monitoring system.Giving an account of the extensive work done in Sweden to clean up the environment from pollution caused by industrialisation till the seventies, she said that from the middle of the nineties "producers' responsibility to collect and recycle and reuse has been introduced in the country. "Since we also import a lot of materials, we also need to know what kinds of materials and what kind of materials the exporters to Sweden use in their merchandise. We also have to have similar international regulations," she added. Leif Pagrotsky, Swedish Minister for Trade, told government and private sector representatives from 14 Asian countries that delegation of like trade environment has no boundaries. He said that Sweden wanted multilateral agreements in the field of environment and the WTO (World Trade Organisation) regulations to be mutually supportive. He said that Sweden's strategy in Asia was interdependence. Eradication of poverty, security, promotion of democratic debate and discussion, respect for human rights as well as sustainable development were the mainstream issues in this respect. In the environment field his country wanted to share the benefits of Swedish technology, expertise and experience with Asian countries, he said. The SSCN which has started the campaign against the import of shrimp is so much respected in Sweden that consumers pay more to buy products that are certified by it as "green," informed sources told this correspondent.

Source: The Independent, 24 May 2000