This week, the provincial government made a major announcement about the fishery and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union.
The announcement was that, a couple of years down the road, there will be $400 million of federal and provincial money to “invest in research and development, new marketing initiatives, fisheries research and enhancements to provincial fisheries infrastructure.”
Of that, $280 million will be federal money, and $120 million will come from provincial coffers.
The money is coming, according to the announcement, as a result of the province agreeing to give up minimum processing regulations (MPRs) on fish products headed for Europe.
On the face of things, it sounds fantastic. Both the fisheries union and the processors are already on side. But there’s an awful lot of work and explanation to be done.
Does, for example, lifting the minimum processing requirements mean that fishing companies in this province can simply process fish at sea for export to the EU? Does it mean fish can be sold directly by fishermen to out-of-province buyers, provided that fish is heading to the EU?
So far, Premier Kathy Dunderdale has argued that the MPRs are virtually meaningless, because EU labour rates and costs are higher than the same costs here; they can’t compete.
So why the battle to keep them until now?
“Within the industry itself and within government, we don’t see any impact coming from an exemption to MPRs for the European Union,” she said when the funding was announced.
“While the economic impact of it wasn’t significant anymore in terms of the European Union, politically it was significant, culturally it was significant, and we needed to talk about what we were going to do about that.”
It makes MPR sound, well, pretty inconsequential.
But the federal government — especially this one — is not in the habit of handing out more than a quarter of a billion dollars to address an inconsequential issue. It also doesn’t make a habit of being absent from the announcement of federal spending — and there was no federal presence at The Rooms when Dunderdale took the stage.
There was a federal statement about the deal — and it did talk, however briefly, about fisheries workers losing their jobs: “In order to realize the full potential of (CETA), and to address the impacts of the removal of MPRs, the federal government has agreed to join the NL government in cost-sharing a transitional program,” said a statement from International Trade. “The program will address fish and seafood industry development and renewal as well as workers whose jobs are displaced in future as result of MPRs no longer being applied to product destined for the EU.”
There are more than a few unsettling facets in what looks like a huge and sudden initiative.
Everything is still in the future — the deal itself will not be codified and officially signed for another two years. Where the money will be spent is also not yet clear.
As usual, the devil will be in the details.