The European Union says it wants to do more with Newfoundland and Labrador fish than just eat it — it wants to use it to help fuel its seafood processing industry.
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."
Liberal Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms is currently in Europe with a delegation of Canadian parliamentarians. He said the suggestion that European processors are interested in access to Canadian fish through the free trade deal is "cause for concern."
"I have to talk to both Canadian and European trade people [about this]," Simms told The Fisheries Broadcast, adding that his next question is, "To what extent do processors in the European Union want the raw material from the Newfoundland and Labrador coast to feed their plants?"
Memo contradicts statements made in Canada
The EU memo appears to fly directly in the face of statements made on this side of the Atlantic.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has been criticized for agreeing to waive minimum processing requirements (MPRs) for fish going into Europe as part of the deal. That means the province must allow fish to go out in whatever form the Europeans desire.
The waiving of MPRs, however, has been called a moot point by government officials, such as Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings, and also by industry representatives.
They have said that eliminating MPRs for fish going into Europe is not an issue because the Europeans can't process fish any more cheaply or efficiently than processors in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Opponents have suggested that is a foolhardy notion given the lower wages, reduced processing costs and the long-standing fish processing history in some areas like Spain and Portugal.
Simms agreed the elimination of trade tariffs for Canadian seafood going into Europe represents a great opportunity for the harvesting sector.
But, at the same time, he said nobody wants to see Newfoundland and Labrador fish processing jobs lost to help prop up the European processing industry.
"For the EU processing industry, I guess they see that as an opportunity," Simms said. "Now who knows, maybe the processing industry won't take advantage of it.
"But the bureaucrats, the trade people who negotiated this deal, certainly feel this is good for their processing industry with access to raw material from the Newfoundland coast."