Canada and the European Union have signed a tentative agreement on free trade, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government says the province's fishing industry will be the big winner.

After four years of negotiations, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was concluded this week, as an agreement in principle.

Talks began in May 2009, and included 16 rounds of negotiating. Newfoundland and Labrador joined the discussions in March 2011.

Once CETA comes into effect, which is expected in 2015, almost all EU tariffs on Canadian fish and seafood will be eliminated. That alone is expected to mean $25 million to $30 million in savings.

Today, only 13.1 per cent is duty-free. But by 2022, all seafood will be 100 per cent duty-free.

Minimum processing requirements will still apply for other areas of the world, such as Asia.

"Newfoundland and Labrador will now have secured access to markets in the EU, which represents a game-changing development in the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Charlene Johnson, the province's minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development.

Derek Butler of the Association of Seafood Producers

Derek Butler is the executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers. (CBC)

Industry players such as the Association of Seafood Producers are pleased with the agreement in principle.

"The most important impediment we face in the European market is the tariff barrier," said Derek Butler, the association's executive director.

"We know they love fish. We know they like seafood, and they eat a lot of seafood. So this is the first most important step. This is a watershed day.

"For example, snow crab, where we have very little sales in the EU market, it's principally in the U.S. and Japan. You have to develop a market, you have to develop a customer base, you have to sell the product ... get it onto consumer shelves and into restaurants." 

Not everyone, however, sees the positive in the CETA deal.

Jim Bennett

Liberal MHA and party leadership candidate Jim Bennett. (CBC)

Liberal MHA Jim Bennett believes nobody will want to invest in the industry, and sees the agreement as a sellout. 

"Southern Europe, Portugal and Spain, they have 25 and 30 per cent unemployment rates. They're also very efficient in their plants because they've invested in their plants," said Bennett.

"They also have very strong markets because they're at the doorsteps of the markets. To me, this is a complete sellout of the small processor and also the plant worker. It seems like Stephen Harper's final solution for small fish processing communities in our province, and (he) has been collaborating [with] the Dunderdale Tories. They're just as happy to be rid of the industry as well." 

Earle McCurdy of the FFAW/Unifor, believes the agreement creates an opportunity. 

"I think, from the fishery point of view, this does open up an opportunity for industry. But for that opportunity to be meaningful, our industry has to respond in a strategic manner to take advantage of this opportunity," he said. 

"We've operated for years at a tremendous competitive disadvantage to, say, Norway, Iceland, and other competitors in terms of getting access to that important market. This, for the most part, removes those disadvantages and gives us a fighting chance."  

But it's not just the fishing industry that could see benefits. 

The province exports more than $1 billion worth of minerals, such as iron ore, annually. When CETA takes effect, 99 per cent of EU tariff lines for non-agricultural goods will be eliminated.

That includes minerals, forestry products, chemicals and ships.