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Sustainability of Canadian fisheries at risk in CETA negotiations: report

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The Canada-EU free trade deal and other "next generation" treaties threaten Canada's regulation of fisheries and put Canadian fishing jobs at risk, says a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Globalization, Trade Treaties and the Future of the Atlantic Canadian Fisheries contains newly leaked information from ongoing Canada-EU trade and investment negotiations suggesting the EU "is strongly pressuring Canada to abolish minimum processing requirements in the CETA."

These documents also show that the provinces have not adequately safeguarded their ability to maintain or set new fisheries policy in the future, since European fishing companies would have enormous rights under the planned investment chapter to challenge those policies as unfair, and seek compensation. Canada has paid out or is on the hook for over $200 million in fines or settlements to U.S. companies under NAFTA's investor-state dispute settlement process, including from successful corporate challenges to Canadian environmental and natural resource policy.

"At stake is the ability of Canadians to pursue public policies that curb domination of the fisheries by large corporations and help spread benefits more widely among independent fishers and coastal communities," explains the report by Scott Sinclair, senior research fellow and director of the CCPA's Trade and Investment Research Project, who will present his new findings at a public event in St. John's tonight. To see a CBC interview with Sinclair from earlier this week, click here.

Minimum processing requirements, foreign ownership caps on fishing licences, licensing preferences based on historical dependence or geographical adjacency to the resource, local hiring and local content requirements, "are contrary to the national treatment and non-discrimination provisions of trade and investment treaties," he writes.

Minimum processing requirements in Atlantic Canada are "a contentious issue that recently played out in St. John's, N.L., as the provincial government wrangled for months with Ocean Choice International," writes the Halifax Chronicle-Herald today in an article about the CCPA paper. "At issue was the company's push for exemptions to minimum processing requirements meant to safeguard local jobs and share benefits of a publicly owned resource."

The Chronicle-Herald explains the company wanted to ship 100 per cent of its caught groundfish to overseas buyers. Ocean Choice reached a deal with the Province in December to ship up to 75 per cent of yellowtail flounder this way, with the rest to be handled at a Flounder, NL processing plant. Sinclair claims that getting rid of minimum processing rules would undermine the province's and Canada's leverage in future disputes.

Reserving the right to manage the fisheries

While the federal government has tried to shield Canadian fisheries measures from some of the market opening, or liberalization, requirements in CETA, the CCPA report suggests the provinces need to do a better job if newly leaked documents are accurate. Many provinces seem to be leaning on Canada's reservations, or carveouts, for non-conforming policies but this will leave provincial decisions in the future vulnerable to trade challenges from the EU or investor suits from European fishing companies.

The recent Exxon-Murphy NAFTA investment dispute against research and development funding requirements for offshore oil and gas projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, which Canada lost, is proof the provinces cannot rely on the so-called Annex I reservation for existing measures that would otherwise upset CETA rules. They must take stronger Annex II (unbound) reservations for any future measure related to the fisheries, states the CCPA report.

Free trade vs. sustainable fisheries

Removing tariffs to Canadian fish products in Europe and elsewhere "would give Canadian producers an opportunity to sell their products in foreign markets at more competitive prices," writes Sinclair. But this cannot be the only consideration since reducing foreign trade barriers is not the most important challenge facing Atlantic Canadian fisheries. Sinclair suggests:

Protecting Canada's ability to regulate the fisheries for conservation purposes and to ensure that the benefits from fisheries are shared with independent fishers and coastal communities should be much higher priorities. Canadians should not make significant concessions in ongoing trade and investment negotiations that might impair these higher priorities, in order to attain the modest, and diminishing, benefits available from reducing the remaining foreign tariffs on fish and fish products.

The report concludes that, "Those who depend on the Atlantic Canada fisheries -- from harvesters to the coastal communities themselves -- cannot afford to be complacent about how the federal government's unprecedented trade and investment treaty agenda threatens their livelihoods."

Click here to read Globalization, Trade Treaties and the Future of the Atlantic Fisheries.

Photo: Derek Keats/Flickr

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