On Dec. 5, Premier Kathy Dunderdale tabled correspondence that outlined the course of negotiations between the provincial and federal governments that led to Newfoundland and Labrador accepting an agreement in principle on a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.
The documents summarize years of hard work, careful analysis, strategic negotiation and leadership on the part of the premier and our negotiating team.
In order to understand the extent of the negotiations that went into finalizing the CETA agreement in principle, you have to appreciate that the proposed CETA agreement includes 41 separate chapters, with topics including rules of origin, sustainable development, environment, labour and market access.
All provinces and territories were asked to identify areas where they wanted changes in current trading practices between Canada and the European Union, and for this government, our focus was on eliminating highly restrictive tariffs and non-tariff barriers that prevented our fishing industry from accessing the most valuable seafood markets in the world.
This is an important point that seems to have been missed by some commentators and critics — the provincial government did not agree to relax minimum processing requirements in exchange for the creation of a $400 million fishing industry enhancement fund.
We agreed to relax minimum processing requirements in order to remove punitive tariffs such as the 20 per cent tax placed on our cooked and peeled shrimp as it enters the European Union and to gain the opportunity to market and brand our world-class seafood in these valuable markets.
We have always granted exemptions to our minimum processing requirements when an exemption creates greater value, and through CETA, our fishing industry will gain at least
$25 million immediately when tariffs are removed, and could gain $100 million annually from new market opportunities and greater demand for our products.
These gains most assuredly justify the decision to relax minimum processing requirements for European markets and were supported by the provincial fishing industry.
While minimum processing requirements remain a tool used by the provincial government to maximize the economic benefits gained through our fish resources, it is important to realize that they have not prevented unviable fish plants from closing in recent years.
Some critics have tried to create the impression that without minimum processing requirements for European markets, provincial plants will be unable to compete internationally and will fold.
This is somewhat insulting to both small and large fish processors in the province, which are already competing very successfully in international markets, as evidenced by what I saw while attending the China Seafood Expo this year. I am pleased to note that from 2006 to 2012, provincial seafood exports to Asia grew nearly 20 per cent, to $322 million.
We want to continue fostering that kind of growth and success in the years to come, and we feel the federal government has an important role to play in fostering that success as well.
That is why we were steadfast in our position that a substantial fund should be created to enhance all aspects of our fishery, and through tough negotiation we created a $400 million fund that will benefit harvesters, processors and plant workers.
There is tremendous opportunity abroad in the global marketplace, and the provincial government will work collaboratively with the industry to enhance research, develop new technology, improve infrastructure and engage in new approaches to marketing.
No stakeholders in the industry were “pawns” in the negotiation process, as suggested in a recent opinion piece. Their interests were our foremost priority, and we will continue to work with the fishing industry to create greater economic benefits for rural communities and grow our fishery beyond the
$1 billion in production value it already produces today.
Keith Hutchings is this province’s
minister of fisheries and aquaculture.