Russia closed its borders to food imports this week as part of the ongoing diplomatic crisis centred around Ukraine.
But Association of Seafood Producers executive director Derek Butler said he’s not convinced the import ban will have a major impact on the local seafood business.
“One of the ways I judge these things is if my phone rings off the hook, and it didn’t,” he said. “All I had were a few media calls.”
According the provincial government numbers, only about six per cent of the province’s seafood goes to Russia, and nearly all of that is shrimp.
Butler said most of that is happening in offshore factory freezer trawlers, and they’ll likely be able to find other markets for their shrimp.
But Bill Barry, CEO of the Barry Group fish processing company, said the import ban is going to have a big impact.
The import ban affects a lot more than just Canada. The U.S., Australia and the European Union are also out, as part of the Russian sanctions.
“Realize that Norway had hundreds and hundreds of tons of fresh salmon at the Russian border yesterday that the Russians turned around and sent back to Norway,” Barry said. “They’ll certainly be looking south to the EU.”
The impact of that, he said, is that it will reduce the prices for everyone else trying to sell fish.
“There is a huge knock-on effect when you take a market with several hundred million people that use the commodity type things that we produce,” he said. “The best thing that can happen for any economy is free and open trade.”
Barry clearly isn’t the only one thinking this way.
The IntraFish industry seafood newsletter on Friday talked about “chaos” in the world seafood markets, and started off by saying, “Hello, losers. Yes, I’m talking to you. Russia’s indiscriminate seafood ban is bad for everyone — including Russians.”
The ban on food imports is in effect for one year.
With that in mind, Barry said now is really the time for Canada and the EU to speed up the CETA free trade deal.
“It’s time for Canada and the EU to ramp up the EU trade agreement,” he said. “We supposedly have a deal. Well, get it signed. Get it implemented.”
When a tentative deal for free trade was announced last year, the federal government said it would likely come into effect sometime in 2015.
Butler said producers are already getting ready for the new reality under the CETA deal.
“They’re definitely working on it,” he said.