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Importers From Colombian Tuna Could Possibly Face Duty Penalties

Officials from the European Community paid an inspection-visit to tuna companies in Colombia from February 9th to the 20th of February 2009 in order to verify the origins of the tuna used in canned and frozen products exported to Europe under cover of the Generalized Systems of Preferences (GSP), which applies a tariff preference for export to the European market.

Canned tuna from Colombia, which is shipped to European importers and supermarkets, and which is supplied with a GSP form A, can be imported into the EU at 0% duty, compared to the full tariff of 24% duty.

Three Colombian canneries were inspected. In the final report dated  February 20th 2009,  two of the canneries that were visited, Atunes Y Enlatados Del Caribe S.S (ATUNEC) and Grupo Alimentario Del Atlantico S.S (GRALCO), were reported to not be eligible to benefit of such preferences. The third cannery Seatech International, was found to be fully compliant with EU regulations.

Canned tuna products exported to the European Community under Andean Agreement or the GSP Plus system must meet the origin criteria for the raw material.

In case of fishery products, the only products entitled to benefit from the preferential rate duty are those that were wholly obtained in the beneficiary country territory and waters, or caught by the country’s vessels in international waters.

The EU visit was a Joint Mission, since the inspections were conducted in collaboration with the Colombian government.

The Colombian Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MCIT) is the body responsible of issuing the GSP certificates to the canneries. For this, companies need to submit several documents, such as invoices and health certificates, to prove the origins of its tuna. In addition, the MCIT holds the information of fishing vessels and carriers that supply the tuna to processing companies.

According to the report by the Joint Mission, the exports of tuna products by Atunec and Gralco to the European Community under Colombian GSP certificates of origin cannot be considered as being eligible to benefit from the tariff preferences of the Community. Which indicates that their canned tuna exported to the EU would not apply for the 0% duty, but should be levied with 24% instead.

In the European Union the importing company –usually the customs agent– is responsible for the fact that imports are made on valid and correctly issued GSP Form A’s. In case any inspection by the community would find irregularities or non–compliance with the rules of origin, importers are slapped with a 24% penalty over the value of the imported canned tuna concerned.

The report states: “Any reply of disagreement with the findings on these two company’s tuna exports will be considered by the Joint Mission to be based on unreliable information provided by the same companies”. This very harsh statement means that it will be very difficult for the 2 canneries to prove their innocence to the EU inspectors.

The problems about the correct origin of the tuna exported centers around fish, which according to the report, was supplied by vessels from Seychelles, Mexico, and Venezuela; vessels that did not meet the origin rules.

Both canneries have received raw material exported from the Seychelles between 2005 and 2008. The report that says “the EU side presented the results of their inquiries into the origin of raw tuna exported from the Seychelles to Colombia between 2005 and 2008. These inquiries, carried out together with the Seychelles’ customs department, established that, except for the catch of one fishing vessel, the Txori Urdin, the tuna exported to Colombia from Seychelles did not comply with the GSP rules of origin. In particular, the requirements on (nationality of the) crew were not fulfilled.”

Both canneries were given the possibility  to prove, in the coming three months, which tuna came from the Txori Urdin, since this fish would comply with EU origin rules.

Based on this report, the chances are not unlikely that in the coming months European importers, who bought from the two mentioned canneries, will be forced by their local customs authorities to put up bank guarantees for 24% of the value of all the tuna imported between 2005 and 2008 from either Gralco or Atunec.  EU procedures are that these bank guarantees need to be in place as long as legal procedures are running, which can take up to 10 years.  In case of refusal to open any guarantee, the importing company risks that its assets are frozen.

In regard to the third cannery, Seatech, the report stated: “Seatech did not receive any raw material from other than Colombian vessels. Neither were there deliveries by deep-sea vessels (steamers) or arrivals of tuna in containers”. Seatech was supplied by totally 13 Colombian flag vessels.