The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is the trade deal Canada just signed with the European Union, and the signature for Canada was Justin Trudeau.
Minimum processing requirements (MPRs) reflect an established right of a province to impose minimum processing requirements for fish landed at our ports. In the past, exemptions have been approved for the export of unprocessed fish when the market required it and/or when processing was not viable. No other province in Atlantic Canada had used MPRs for fish over the past number of years, except Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the bilateral discussions between Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador as part of CETA, Ottawa asked this province to give up MPRs. In our discussions at that time, our government insisted on getting something in return if we were to consider the request. After consulting with the industry, we agreed to negotiate, as all believed the Newfoundland and Labrador industry was competitive and — with reorganization, with a focus on innovation, research and infrastructure — we would continue to be an industry of success.
We negotiated a $400-million Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Innovation Fund to prepare our industry to compete more effectively for opportunities as we looked to the future.
Our government’s position was clear. We were clear with Ottawa. We met with the EU ambassadors at their embassies in Ottawa and they were made clear. No Fisheries Fund as negotiated with our national government, no deal. Without the full $400 million in place prior to Canada and the European Union signing CETA, Newfoundland and Labrador would retain MPRs and this province would not be approving the export of fish to the EU. We would pull our MPRs off the table. While some questioned a signed deal with the feds, we operated under their rules, and collected over 300 pages of exchanges during negotiations which clearly outlined the deal. Back then, prior to the signing of CETA, we knew our leverage with Ottawa was there; without the fund before formal signing, Newfoundland and Labrador would not give up MPRs, and that was our line in the sand.
It’s been rumoured that the other Atlantic Liberal premiers lobbied against the fund our government negotiated. It looks like they won.
Prior to the federal election in 2015, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wrote our leader to say he agreed with our position and supported this fund.
After the provincial election, when Dwight Ball came to office, we urged him to hold Trudeau to his written promise — but first and foremost, with the deal not signed between Canada and the EU, to use the leverage we had established.
But all went silent on the provincial front. In answers to questions in the House of Assembly, we were told the provincial Liberal government was still negotiating. Now, CETA is signed by Trudeau with Premier Ball in power in Newfoundland and Labrador. The deal is done. And what has Newfoundland and Labrador received in return?
It certainly cannot be the Atlantic Fisheries Fund. That fund is called the Atlantic provinces fund as opposed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Innovation Fund. We were the province that relinquished MPRs — the only province — that gave up MPRs. The Atlantic Fisheries Fund is a fund of general application, not the fund we were promised in exchange for the MPRs that our bilateral negotiations with Ottawa resulted in. I don’t remember Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick or Quebec being involved with those discussions; hence the term bilateral: Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ottawa.
We had every right to demand something exceptional in return during the negotiations — not simply a share of a fisheries funding for the entire Atlantic region, which has nothing to do with CETA negotiations. It’s been rumoured that the other Atlantic Liberal premiers lobbied against the fund our government negotiated. It looks like they won.
Trudeau caved in, and Ball let him. They were in power when the agreement was sanctioned with the EU; that is fact.
And now it’s too late for Ball to do anything about it, because our MPRs and our leverage have been given away — in exchange for absolutely nothing.
Keith Hutchings, MHA Ferryland
Opposition Intergovernmental Affairs critic