Says discussions with Ottawa ‘back on track,’ but N.L. won’t compromise
Premier Kathy Dunderdale had a busy media day Tuesday fielding questions from reporters on everything from drug-related violence in St. John’s to offshore oil exploration to free trade with Europe. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the provincial government was busy this past weekend exchanging correspondence with Ottawa about the country’s free trade discussions with Europe and the implications for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The premier recently expressed concerns that the federal government might not work in the best interests of Newfoundland and Labrador when it comes to establishing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe.
But speaking in St. John’s Tuesday, Dunderdale indicated the province’s discussions with Ottawa are running more smoothly than before.
“We seem to be back on track,” said the premier, speaking with reporters after making a funding announcement at the MacMorran Community Centre. “We have alignment. This is a very big deal for Canada.”
Last week, the premier said Ottawa was looking for the province to drop minimum processing requirements for the fishery. She also claimed the federal government threatened to withhold the loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development if the province did not co-operate.
“We had to really draw a line in the sand and say that we were going to represent the best interests of our province, and we weren’t going to compromise that in any way, regardless of what the benefits might be for the rest of the country.”
Asked if an agreement has been reached on minimum processing requirements with Ottawa in relation to CETA talks, Dunderdale would only say the province has made its position clear with International Trade Minister Ed Fast. Talks on a CETA deal are taking place in Brussels, Belgium.
“There is alignment between us now, so the federal negotiator will take our position to the table in the talks over the next week or so,” the premier said.
Fish, Food and Allied Workers union president Earle McCurdy appeared open to the possibility of removing minimum processing requirements, so long as it opened up the European market to fish caught in Newfoundland and Labrador.
McCurdy told The Telegram last week that existing trade tariffs hinder efforts to get a foothold in what may be the most important seafood market worldwide.
Asked for a reaction to McCurdy’s comment, Dunderdale spoke of the need to remain flexible to all options available.
“To ask Newfoundland and Labrador to give away MPR (minimum processing requirements), then you have to see what comes back as a result of all of that. You’re talking about all kinds of gives and takes on the table, and so you do a cost-benefit analysis, you talk to the people in the industry — not just this one, others that are affected — and you see what’s in the best interests of the people of this province.”
Dunderdale said minimum processing requirements are not in place for all species harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador, offering lobster as an example.
“The greater value for us is to let the lobster go out of the province whole. So there’s always been that mix of holding firm to an MPR and being more relaxed on an MPR, and you have to have that kind of fluidity in a commercial marketplace, because you have to know what the market wants.”
Dunderdale said there is a chance a CETA deal can be made in time for this month’s G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.
“I know that is certainly the benchmark that (Ottawa has) set for themselves,” she said.