March 10, 2017
The Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Republic of the Philippines held the third technical working group (TWG) meeting under their bilateral agreement on law enforcement cooperation in fisheries matters in Quezon City, the Philippines, on March 9. The two sides conducted in-depth discussions and reached consensus on various important issues, thereby further advancing bilateral relations and strengthening future law enforcement cooperation in fisheries matters.
Issues on the agenda at the meeting included the promotion of overall law enforcement cooperation in fisheries matters; enhancement of a law enforcement notification mechanism; establishment of a communication hotline; prompt release of detained crews and vessels; innocent passage of Taiwanese vessels through Philippine waters; sharing of fisheries information; joint prevention of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; creation of greater stability within the fishing industry; and sharing of resources.
With regard to the law enforcement notification mechanism, Taiwan and the Philippines reached accord on a number of practical matters―i.e., relevant procedures and notification template to be used, as well as the joint fight against IUU fishing―under Attachment B of their bilateral agreement. In addition to confirming procedures and updating contact information under Attachment B, the two sides also agreed to conduct drills at an appropriate time to ascertain that notification channels operate smoothly.
In order to strengthen communication, Taiwan and the Philippines agreed to notify the other party within four hours of taking law enforcement action and, within 24 hours, to send relevant basic information, reasons for the action taken, and available evidence for the other side’s reference. To prevent IUU fishing, the two sides also agreed in principle to establish a cooperation mechanism at the Philippine Port of Davao that will include information sharing and joint inspections.
With regard to the Philippines’ adamant position on enforcing the law within its contiguous zone, Taiwan firmly stated that parts of that contiguous zone lie within Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone in accordance with UNCLOS, and that its government must protect the right of its fishermen to operate in these waters. It urged the Philippines not to detain Taiwanese fishing vessels in the contiguous zone it claims. Although the Philippines did not make concrete promises on this issue, it took note of Taiwan’s views and stated it would explore measures to avoid conflict in consideration of actual circumstances.
Taiwan also demanded assurances that its fishing vessels be accorded the right of innocent passage through Philippine waters and requested that the high administrative fines for related violations be reduced. Although the two sides were unable to reach consensus on these matters, they clearly expressed their respective views as well as their willingness to continue discussions to find a feasible solution, so as to reduce potential fisheries conflicts between them.
The Philippines stated that, in response to Taiwan’s repeated request, it would consider relevant legislation in its Congress in the near future and facilitate the passage of the Sealane Passage Bill, per which Taiwanese and other foreign fishing vessels would be allowed to use sea lanes designated by the Philippines to pass through its archipelagic waters. The Philippines also requested that Taiwanese fishing vessels in innocent passage fly the ROC national flag, have their fishing gear stowed and secured, and take a direct route through its waters. The vessels will be required to provide relevant transit information to the Philippines in advance and exercise their right of innocent passage in accordance with Philippine regulations.
As consensus has yet to be reached on law enforcement issues concerning the contiguous zone claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged the Fisheries Agency to remind Taiwanese fishermen to be vigilant of the risk of operating in the contiguous zone north of the Philippines. It has also requested the Coast Guard Administration to provide continued protection to fishermen in accordance with the law so as to ensure their fishing rights. Taiwan and the Philippines will continue to proactively build mutual trust and engage in further negotiations on law enforcement cooperation at future TWG meetings, so as to bolster friendly bilateral relations and safeguard the rights of fishermen of both nations.
Meanwhile, Taiwan emphasized that, under its New Southbound Policy, it aims to continue to advance fisheries cooperation with the Philippines, which is Taiwan’s nearest neighbor and an important focus country of this policy. The Philippines welcomed Taiwan’s suggestion and expressed hope that the two countries could avoid conflict and work together to create even greater reciprocity and mutual benefit.
Taiwan and the Philippines signed the Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters in 2015. In accordance with Article 6 of the agreement, the TWG was established to meet at least once a year to discuss concrete forms of law enforcement cooperation. The first two TWG meetings were held in Taipei in November 2015 and March 2016. Taipei will also host the fourth TWG meeting in the first half of 2018.
The third TWG meeting on March 9 was co-chaired by Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines Gary Song-huann Lin and Director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office Cesar M. Drilon Jr. The main negotiators for the two sides were Deputy Director-General of Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency Huang Hong-yen and the National Director of the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Eduardo B. Gongona. The meeting was also attended by various other representatives of competent authorities, including the Fisheries Agency and Coast Guard Administration of Taiwan as well as the National Police Maritime Group and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines. (E)