Following on two years of poor performance and results, Uruguay's fishing industry is expected to face similar conditions in 2014, with ongoing labor disputes and tougher international markets particularly the European Union and Nigeria in Africa, which absorbed most of the country's hake, croaker and sea trout.
In effect as of January first, Uruguay is catalogued as a high-middle class country which means that the special tariff benefits extended by the EU, and included many fisheries exports, have ceased. Likewise Nigeria that was the main buyer of croaker exports (70%), and as of last October closed its market to all fisheries imports.
Ricardo Piñeiro president of Uruguay's fishing vessels Chamber, CAPU, anticipated a tough year, it should be better than last year, but we have no elements to guarantee this will be the case.
With no sales of croaker to Nigeria we will have to press for other markets and a fall in prices can be expected, since that is how new markets operate, said Piñeiro.
Uruguay's fisheries exports last year totaled 135 million dollars, 25% less than the previous year, 2012 when they reached 180 million dollars. And 2012 also recorded an 18% drop compared to 2011 when overseas sales reached 219 million dollars, according to the stats from the country's Exporters' Union.
In 2013 there was an additional factor which influenced activities negatively: with the end of the labor contract, the union and CAPU had to negotiate new salaries and working conditions which was not an easy ride since it was supported by a strike that had the fleet docked for over four months.
Finally an agreement was reached and is effective until 2016, but given the prospects, further conflicts are not discarded.
Daniel Gilardoni, head of Uruguay's National Aquatic Resources Department revealed the country is working with Iceland and Norway to try and reopen the Nigerian market and is preparing to send a trade delegation to Lagos.
If this situation is confirmed and Nigeria limits fisheries imports, we will face a new scenario since we could be before specific 'trade discrimination' against Uruguay and this enables us to try the WTO option.
Gilardoni also admitted that the loss of the EU Generalized System of Preferences, GSP, benefits is going to be significant for Uruguay, and will be a challenge because it will give us an idea of our competitiveness because other countries, such as Argentina and Brazil, have also lost the benefit.
However contrary to what happens with beef, said Gilardoni, where barriers are mostly sanitary, with fisheries they refer to tariffs and this is far more complicated.
He added that reaching a free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union would be tremendously valuable.
Other Uruguayan export sectors that were benefitted with the EU GSP included wood and pulp; skins and fruits. These benefits since January first no longer exist.