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This week, the UK signed a post-Brexit fisheries agreement with the Faroe Islands, following a similar deal with Norway. The country’s fisheries minister said: “This is a historic day for relations between the Faroes and the United Kingdom. “The signing of the Fisheries Agreement is a landmark in our history and a stepping stone in our joint ambition to develop further the cooperation between our two nations. “I am especially pleased with the sincere and constructive working relationship between Faroe and UK Ministers and officials in recent years.”
As the UK announced the deal, major differences remain in Brexit trade talks with the EU.
The bloc’s negotiator Michel Barnier, has warned the UK it will be excluded from European markets if British fishing grounds don’t remain open to European vessels.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson may find encouragement from the Faroe Islands’ own dispute with Brussels in 2013.
The EU sought to punish the Faroe Islands for allegedly plundering stocks of herring.
It represented the EU’s first resort to sanctions against a country in a fisheries dispute.
Maria Damanaki, the EU commissioner for fisheries, said the bloc had “no option but to move ahead and take all necessary steps in ensuring a sustainable herring fishery”.
However, Faroe Islands officials hit back at Brussels for starting an “economic war”.
Then prime minister of the country, Kaj Leo Holm, said: “It is short-sighted and ill-considered of the EU to take such an unjustifiable step against one of its nearest European neighbours.
“It is difficult to see what purpose these measures serve other than to protect fishing industry interests within the EU.”
Meanwhile, Iceland’s negotiator over mackerel quotas, Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, said he considered any type of sanction “as illegal and not in line with international obligations”.
He added: “We can learn from the ‘Cod Wars’ that we must solve this dispute diplomatically rather than through an economic war.”
The Faroes, together with Iceland, had been at odds with the EU and Norway for several years, fighting over quotas for herring and mackerel.
In the dispute, dubbed the “Mackerel Wars”, Icelandic and Faroese fisheries officials argued the migrating stocks allowed both countries to fish at much higher levels than their quotas would allow.
However, the row was eventually settled when, in 2014, the EU lifted sanctions while the Faroes withdrew their own action against the bloc.
Ms Damanaki said: “After long and intensive negotiations, I am satisfied that we can soon consider the herring dispute as something of the past.
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“Faroese fishermen will be able to come back to EU waters and European fishermen can continue their traditional fisheries in Faroese waters.”
He added: “Let’s now focus on working hand in hand towards sustainable fisheries in the North-East Atlantic.”
The debacle arguably proves that the EU could yet back down in Brexit trade talks as diplomats in Brussels realise their zero-tolerance approach is not in their best interest.
In this way, the Faroe Islands dispute may offer David Frost and his team of UK negotiators hope of breaking the deadlock.
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