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“Red Book” and “good fortune” of Tra catfish

The article titled: “Red Book” and “good fortune” of Tra catfish” from Lawyers Tran Thanh Tung, on January 2011.

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The fact that Tra catfish is ranked in “red list” has caused some worries to enterprises in aquiculture industry of Vietnam. However, the matter has been quickly settled, recovering the ‘prestige’ for Tra fish. Certainly, this is not the last dispute, hence the experience from this matter will be a good lesson in the future, especially in the coordination of relevant authorities.

In this matter, the basic issue to be examined is the legal nature of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and legal value of Handbook of Aquatic product Consuming Instruction of 2010-2011 issued by WWF.

Regarding the first item, according to information on the website of WWF (http://www.worldwifelife.org/who/History/index.htm) and its Articles of Incorporation revised on 4 December 1991, WWF, in the legal aspect, is a company established under the Delaware General Corporation Law 1993, with full name as World Wildlife Fund, Inc. and registered head office at Wilmington City, New Castle District, Delaware State. Pursuant to Clause 3 of the Articles, the organization and operation purpose of the Company is to engage only in activities of humanity, education and science in order to be exempted from the federal income tax under Article 501(c)(3) of the Law on Local Turnover 1986. The initial purpose of WWF is a non-government and non-profit organization, not a government one. The operation fund of WWF is sourced from the contribution of its members, but especially from the collection of individuals, enterprises and organizations (including government authorities of the U.S. ([*])).

As a non-government organization, the documents issued by WWF are not legal ones. Moreover, since it is not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in principle, WWF is not bound by the dispute settlement mechanism of WTO. If we sue WWF in this direction, the possibility of admission the claim is not reliable. This does not mean that WWF cannot be sued under the laws of countries (The U.S. or other countries) for other liabilities as an American company.

The General Department of Aquiculture (under The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) and WWF signed a long-term cooperation memorandum of understanding on 17 December in order to help Vietnamese Tra catfish earn the Aquatic Stewardship Council (ASC) certified credit label. Accordingly, WWF has officially removed the Tra catfish product of Vietnam from “red list” (should not consume) in Handbook of Aquatic product Consuming Instruction in six European countries, comprising Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium and Denmark.

The General Department of Aquiculture and WWF set a goal of attaining relevant international sustainable development standards for 25 percent of Vietnam’s export Tra catfish volume in the period of 2011-2012, with 10 percent to be certified by ASC; and in 2015, 100% exported Tra catfish achieving international standards on sustainable development, with 50% being certified by ASC.

This issue helps us to learn more about the strength of foreign non-government organizations as well as recognize a new ‘stratagem’ of our competitors aside from the making use of their state authorities to oppose Vietnam Tra catfish. It is obvious that if this recommendation is from a government agency, Vietnam will have good reason to sue WWF under the mechanism of dispute settlement of WTO. However, this is the recommendation of a non-government organization to which the mechanism of dispute settlement within the scope of WTO is not applied although the losses of Vietnam’s Tra catfish industry caused by this recommendation are countable.

The success in the “rescue” of Vietnam’s Tra catfish is a result combined from many factors. It is the effort and cooperation of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), The General Department of Aquiculture (under The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), relevant government agencies, media agencies and enterprises. The issue has been settled rightly, quickly and with total force (by means of communication, laws, diplomacy, etc.). This matter expresses the extremely important role of VASEP and The General Department of Aquiculture who are the pioneers in combining and processing information and representing the enterprises. In the process of negotiation with WWF, we have recognized our real opponent and his important interests to take suitable solutions.

From this experience, in the future the associations need to play the pioneer role in protection of the enterprises in those associations with positive cooperation from relevant ministries and authorities. The associations and relevant ministries and authorities should make the plan to deal with and settle the crises of similar issues in the future. Enterprises and farmers should gradually change their work of feeding and processing Tra catfish to the sustainable direction and meet the specifications that are higher and higher of the countries, and in this issue are the ASC Standards of WWF scheduled to be brought forward in the middle of 2011.

This is certainly not the last encounter between the Vietnam Tra catfish and other kinds pangasius catfish. Hence, standby measures must be constantly maintained.

([*]) Namely the Ministry of Agriculture of the U.S., U.S. Agency of International Development, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic & Administration, etc.