Remove Tax on Tinned Fish

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 8 2021

Sri Lanka levies a number of various import taxes on the poor man’s diet of fish, which is mainly led by tinned fish such as mackerel, jack and horse mackerel. The cumulative amount of these taxes work to an exorbitant 51 per cent a kilo, Customs data showed.

This has to be looked at in the context that the World Bank (WB), in a publication titled ‘Fish To 2030 Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture’ said, “Fish is an important source of animal protein for human consumption.” Complementing this finding, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a recent publication said, “Protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are important public health issues in Sri Lanka. 

Fish play a crucial role in nutrition and thus, promoting fish in the diet is among the strategies to control protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Fish are a source of proteins and healthy fats and provide a unique source of essential nutrients, including long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, vitamin D and calcium. 

Furthermore, fish are ideal options for maintaining good health and weight management as they are low in cholesterol and thus recommended for patients with diabetes, coronary heart diseases and hypertension over other animal proteins.”

 However, statistics found on the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report titled ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021,’ showed that though the ‘Prevalence of Undernourishment in the Total Population,’ 2004-2006 which was 14.7 per cent had declined to 6.8 per cent in the period 2018-2020 in Sri Lanka, nonetheless, ‘Prevalence of Wasting in Children Under Five Years of Age’ as at 2020 stood at a ‘high’ of 15.1 per cent, while the ‘Prevalence of Stunting in Children Under Five Years of Age’ which was 16.8 per cent in 2012 had only marginally declined to 16 per cent by 2020. Meanwhile, ‘Prevalence of Anaemia among Women of Reproductive Age (15-49 Years)’ which was a high at 33.5 per cent in 2012, had further increased to 34.6 per cent by 2019, the aforesaid UNICEF data showed. 

Also, the ‘Prevalence of Low Birth Weight’ which was a high at 16.6 per cent in 2012 had only marginally declined to 15.9 per cent by 2015, its statistics showed. Meanwhile, Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL’s) 2020 Annual Report said, ‘domestic fish consumption of the household and hotel sectors was affected by the domestic and global lockdown measures and the fear about fish being a carrier of the virus, resulted in volatile prices throughout the year.

 In terms of prices, on average, large fish varieties recorded a marginal decline of 0.4 per cent while small fish varieties recorded an increase of 19.2 per cent during the year. ‘ These price increases have to be looked at in the context that according to ‘Scientific American,’ smaller fish are more nutritious than the bigger varieties. Sri Lanka’s total fish production for consumption in the first seven months of the year increased by 3.3 per cent (7.7 million kgs.) year-on-year (YoY) to 238.8 million kgs., latest CBSL data showed. 

However, when fish production in the first seven months of this year is compared with the first seven months of 2019, there is a sharp drop, with fish production steeply declining by 19.05 per cent (56.2 million kgs.) with the first seven months of 2019 producing a total fish catch of 295 million kgs. 

Meanwhile, total fish production in 2020 recorded a figure of 414.1 million kgs, a YoY fall of 18.16 per cent (91.9 million kgs.) with 2019 producing a total fish catch of 506 million kgs. Fish production includes both freshwater and saltwater catch as well as crustaceans such as shrimp. Sri Lanka’s fish production is weighted in favour of the marine sector, which production comprises over 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total fish catch.

 Since March 2020 to at least July 2021 fish production has been hampered by COVID-19 led shutdowns, lockdowns, travel restrictions and such like. Nonetheless, fish is the cheapest sources of animal protein available to Sri Lankans. As such it’s the bounden duty of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure a steady stream of fish supply to the market at a reasonable price.

 Tinned fish such as mackerel, as said before is an important source of fish/protein for the people of Sri Lanka, especially beginning from the poor to the middle classes, in particular the lower middle class. However, as Sri Lanka is not self-sufficient in tinned fish, it has to be imported. Therefore, to ensure a healthy population, GoSL needs to revisit its import taxation on tinned fish which, when all import taxes are added, currently stands at an exorbitant rate of 50 per cent on a kg.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 8 2021

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