“They think it will have a positive impact,” Ian MacPherson said of briefings he’s received from the federal and provincial governments on the ongoing negotiations, “and we hope it does.”
MacPherson’s optimism is tempered by his belief that the Canadian seafood industry can make inroads into the European marketplace even without free trade. He commented on the discussion the same day that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report warning that a free-trade deal could be disastrous for the Atlantic fisheries, placing more power in the hands of multi-national corporations.
Also commenting on the report was Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ Union in Newfoundland.
“Reduction and elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers is a very important goal, or should be a very important goal of our government in these negotiations,” said McCurdy.
“Having said that, the concern here is that there’s a lot of risk associated with that. And these so called free-trade agreements aren’t really about free trade as much as they are about free rights for international corporations to do as they like.”
MacPherson acknowledges there are many challenges facing the industry.
Last week, he made a presentation at the Prince County Fishermen’s Association about Marine Stewardship Council certification showing that the product comes from a sustainable fishery.
Marine Stewardship Council certification is being demanded by more and more multinationals, he noted.
If a fishing sector does not have certification it will be shut out by companies that demand it, he added. Companies demand for certification, said MacPherson, is driven by customer demands and is “a big deal” in central Europe.
While MacPherson believes the fishing industry will have to bear the cost of certification, if it goes that way, he suggested the removal of tariffs could make it easier for Canadian seafood products, including Prince Edward Island lobster, to appear on store shelves in Europe.
For MacPherson, the biggest challenge is this: “At the end of the day, from the harvester’s perspective, how do we get that value back to the harvester?