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Fish wars: Faroe Islands fire first shots

Fighting back against EU sanctions, feisty archipelago calls EU tactics “discriminatory”
The EU sanctions would decimate a Faroese economy that relies on fishing for over 90 percent of its exports (Photo: Colourbox)

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The Faroe Islands set the stage yesterday at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the beginnings of its battle over EU trade sanctions on its fish quotas.

The WTO said that the Faroes had made a formal request for consultations with the European Union over measures that restrict the entry into any EU port of herring and mackerel caught under the control of the Faroe Islands.

The dispute began in August when the European Commission voted to implement sanctions against the Faroe Islands because of the country’s decision to set independent fishing quotas for mackerel that were far higher than the EU recommendations. The Faroes decided to establish an autonomous quota of 105,230 tonnes; the EU wanted just a fifth of that.

The EU said it took action as a last resort, blaming the Faroes for failing to halt unsustainable fishing.

Copenhagen in the middle
The Faroes are under the sovereignty of Denmark, and Denmark is a member of both the EU and the WTO. The relationship puts Danish politicians in a tricky situation, but the government in Copenhagen has announced that it will not stop the Faroes from pursuing its grievances.

“The government has made the decision not to stand in the way if the Faroe Islands decides to take its claim against EU at the WTO,” the Danish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Under the rules of the WTO, requesting consultations is the first step towards seeking the creation of an independent panel of trade experts to rule on a complaint.

The Faroe Islands maintain that the EU measures violate the rules of international trade because they are discriminatory and deny freedom of transit.

Fishing accounts for over 90 percent of the Faroe Islands’ exports and the sanctions would debilitate their economy.

The Danish government has attempted to persuade the EU to drop the sanctions against the Faroe Islands, but so far those efforts have been in vain.