The announcement and the deal may be agreed to, but there’s still a heck of a lot to be learned about this country’s new trade deal with the European Union. After all, both the EU and the Canadian government have to sell the deal on its high points, and you can be sure that the two sides will have vastly different interpretations about who won what in the negotiations.
Take the part of the agreement that lifts local processing requirements for fish in this province. Here’s the European spin, courtesy of the CBC.
“A government memo issued in Brussels to member states of the European Union on Oct. 18 highlights the benefits for the EU in the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. Under ‘fisheries,’ the memo states that in addition to the elimination of tariffs, ‘the fish package also includes other elements of interest to EU firms, such as better access to Canadian fish for the EU processing industry,’” CBC News reported.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale says this province isn’t worried about lifting those rules, because she maintains we can process fish more cheaply here. At one point, she said in the House of Assembly there would be not one job lost as a result of the agreement. Since then, she’s suggested there may be a small number of job losses. At the same time, while she has promised to release details of the province’s role in the CETA negotiations, the documents haven’t turned up yet.
Add to that the unsettling fact that the federal government doesn’t want to send any representatives here to talk about the deal. The feds may be participating in the $400-million fisheries fund to offset CETA’s effects, but they strangely didn’t want to be on stage when the deal was announced. Likewise, while federal ministers have fanned out to talk about the deal in every other province in Canada, “scheduling” issues have meant they haven’t set foot here.
Bit by bit, though, some details are trickling out.
Now, Bonavista South Tory MHA Glen Little is a relatively small fish in the province’s legislative pond, but he was the MHA who, last week, introduced a motion congratulating the provincial government for its role in the CETA negotiations.
Here’s a bit of what he said in the House of Assembly about what that deal would do: “We will maintain our minimum processing requirements but we have agreed to grant requests from licensed seafood processors wishing to sell unprocessed fish and seafood to EU seafood processing interests. The province elected to make this move based on our confidence that Newfoundland and Labrador seafood processors already hold a strong comparative advantage over the EU based seafood processors.”
That’s interesting, because it not only talks about approving the sale of unprocessed fish, but indicates sales will have to go through processors.
We may well be able to process fish more cheaply here right now, but with rising labour costs, already scheduled increases in electrical costs and the difficulty of finding qualified workers in an aging workforce, what’s to say that some processors won’t choose an easier way to make money, by being middlemen instead? Not everyone will. As processor Bill Barry points out, it is a huge opportunity with a huge market.
It’s also a huge deal that isn’t even on paper yet, and for which the devil is truly in the details.