Bremen sheds light on massive controversial fishmeal import

The imports of fishmeal into Germany from occupied Western Sahara is a lot larger than what has been known to the public so far, according to fresh data from the Bremen government.
Published: 25.02 - 2019 10:13Printer version    
Above: Protesters object to KMP imports outside of the company's headquarters in Hamburg, 29 July 2018.
This article was updated on 31 March 2019.

In July 2018, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) reported on the transport of up to 3000 tonnes of fishmeal from occupied Western Sahara into Bremen. The transport was made on the bulk vessel Bente – the client was the local importer Köster Marine Proteins.  

However, in a statement on 15 January 2019, the local Bremen government revealed trade data showing that the episode of Bente in July 2018 was not at all an isolated case. From January 2017 to August 2018 – the government data explains – a total of 22,026 tonnes of fishmeal found its way from occupied territory to Bremen. The information was published as a response to a parliamentary question asked 6 November 2018.

Read also: Fishmeal from occupied Western Sahara being unloaded in Germany

A consignment of 3000 tonnes of fishmeal that was loaded in occupied Western Sahara is at present being unloaded in the port of Bremen, Germany. "How does this fit with the ECJ judgment on trade with Western Sahara?", WSRW asks.

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WSRW expects this entire volume to consist of fishmeal. The volume coincides with five shipments from El Aaiún to Bremen, which WSRW has been able to identify during the period.

Köster Marine Proteins (KMP), describes itself as the largest fishmeal dealer in Europe. WSRW has not seen proof that associates the 22,026 tonnes directly to KMP, but the company is the only such importer in Bremen. KMP has not responded to two WSRW requests regarding its trade with Moroccan interests in Western Sahara.

Based on the newly released figures, WSRW estimates that Bremen is one of the most important harbours of imports of fish products into the EU from Western Sahara. WSRW estimates that the Bremen imports could account for approximately 12% of the value of all fishery products exported annually from the occupied Western Sahara to the EU (see calculation below). The territory is under illegal occupation by neighbouring Morocco.

WSRW today sent a letter to the Bremen customs, enquiring whether tariffs have been applied on the fishmeal from Western Sahara imported into Bremen. The letter had outlineds a WSRW calculation suggesting that the tariff due to be paid for the 22,026 tonnes is around €6 million. [UPDATE 31 March 2019: WSRW received a response from German customs that this presumption was not correct, because the tarrif is at 0%. Download the 25 March response here].

“We urge Köster Marine Protein not to import fishmeal from the Western Sahara as long as the conflict remains unresolved. Contributing to the Moroccan government’s fisheries sector in the territory cements the illegal occupation and complicates the work of the UN special envoy, former president Horst Köhler, to solve the conflict”, Tim Sauer from Western Sahara Resource Watch stated.

The UN-recognized representative of the Sahrawi people, the Polisario Front, had not approved of this export, but in the case of the Bente, demanded that the goods not pass through German customs.

In September 2017, during the dispute over the renegotiation of the EU-Morocco trade agreement, the German government made a misleading statement to the Bundestag that no agricultural and fishery products from Western Sahara was imported into Germany in 2016 and that fisheries resources from Western Sahara "haben keine Relevanz für den deutschen Markt."

However, it seems clear that imports from Western Sahara did in fact take place before, but that this trade was declared with the wrong country code.

Errors in federal government statistics has led Western Sahara products to be treated as “Moroccan” upon entering Germany. This even happened at a time after the CJEU judgment of 21 December 2016, which made it clear that the EU-Morocco trade agreement does not apply to goods from Western Sahara. Accordingly, in March 2017, the EU Commission instructed the customs authorities of the EU Member States to classify goods from Western Sahara separately and to levy the corresponding customs duties.

Federal German statistics report of no trade at all between Western Sahara and Germany from 2013 to 2017.

Federal trade data collected from the database of the Federal Statistical Office [download] clarified that in the year 2017, the volume of fishmeal from “Morocco” into Germany was at 24.441 tonnes, with a value of € 25.794.000 – in other words an average price of 1055 Euro/tonne. If applying that ‘average price’ on trade data recently declared from the Bremen government (€ 1055 * 22.026 tonnes), means that the goods imported into Bremen from the occupied territory from 1 January 2017 to August 2018 had an estimated value of € 23 million.

In comparison, the European Commission in 2018 stated that the EU's total imports of fishery products from Western Sahara amounted to an estimated  €122 million for the year 2016. The Bremen imports of fish meal during the calendar year 2017, was worth around 14 million (if applying an average value on the imports at 1055 €/tonne). If presupposing that the trade data for the EU and Bremen for 2016 and 2017 were approximately the same from one year to the other, Bremen harbour alone accounts for around 12 percent of all EU imports of fishery products from the occupied territory. That percentage should be considered a very rough estimate only.  

KMP is using  the Hansakai harbour facility in Bremen belonging to transport company J. Müller. Built in 2016, this facility – "the biggest and the most modern fishmeal terminal in Europe” – meets all the requirements to meet EU transport and sanitary control requirements. The fishmeal can be loaded onto ships, trains or trucks in containers or big sacks after customs clearance. Through the Bremen imports, the Germany city appears to be the EU's gateway to the fishmeal trade in occupied Western Sahara.

The vessels that WSRW expect to have been used to transport fishmeal to Bremen port are: ‘Bente’ (IMO number 940536 in February 2017 and in July 2018), ‘Rix Flevo’ (IMO number 9139335, in July 2017 and December 2017) and the ‘Burgtor' (IMO number 8801113, in February 2018).

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Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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