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CETA and the Atlantic Fisheries

New trade treaties jeopardize our ability to regulate fisheries

by Robert Devet

[Photo: Robert DeVet]
[Photo: Robert DeVet]


K'jipuktuk (Halifax) — A new report on the impact of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on fisheries raises many concerns.

The report by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) senior researcher Scott Sinclair adds to the controversy surrounding the free trade deal between Canada and the European Union, which is being negotiated under a shroud of secrecy.

Sinclair, who spoke at the Nova Scotia launch of the report, issued a stern warning: “At stake is the ability of Canadians to pursue public policies that curb the domination of our fisheries by large corporations.”

The policies Sinclair is alluding to help spread the benefits of the east coast fishery more widely among smaller independent fishers and coastal communities.  

Policies that enable regulation of the fisheries for conservation and other public purposes are also in CETA's crosshairs.  

Late last year, the Halifax Media Co-op reported how CETA jeopardizes municipalities' ability to set policy and how it will negatively impact the lives of  Nova Scotians. 

But many assumed that the Atlantic fisheries would come out ahead. Lowering and ultimately eliminating tariffs on Canadian fish imports into Europe would boost the industry, the only question was by how much. Fisheries as a clear winner in the CETA sweepstakes has been part of the federal government's rhetoric.

Sinclair does not dispute that lowering tariffs will benefit sectors of the Atlantic fisheries. But he argues that we are making too much of it. It is true that our fish exporters encounter higher tariffs in European markets than anywhere else. However, a steadily increasing demand for fish in Europe will likely push tariffs downwards. 

Most importantly, the loss of regulatory authority is too high a price to pay. 

“If only this trade agreement were just about tariffs,” Sinclair says, “but it's the broad scope of these new next-generation trade and investment treaties and the corporate-lead globalization that these treaties facilitate that jeopardizes important aspects of fisheries regulation.”

CETA is part of a trend, Sinclair argues. “These recent agreements deal with many matters far beyond trade and tariffs. Just like the new big boats on the oceans have a lot more fishing power and are a lot more destructive, these new trade and investment agreements are a lot more intrusive. Much more so than even the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

So how does this intrusion manifest? Here are a few highlights:

The requirement that fish caught in the 200-mile zone be processed domestically, a policy tool mostly wielded in Newfoundland, is something that may well be bargained away.   

Sinclair flags current policies that limit the allocation of fishing licenses to Canadians and ensure that inshore fisheries' owners of fishing boats are also operators as vulnerable. The same for policies that grant preferential treatment to fishers from communities near the resource.   

The principle of fleet separation, the requirement that fish processors do not hold fishing licenses so as to protect independent fishers, is another measure that goes against the spirit of CETA.

Co-management of fisheries resources is a process that brings together local fishers, independent scientists and arm's-length regulators to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish resources. Because of its emphasis on local expertise it may well be deemed discriminatory to non-local corporations.  

Many components of our current policies will be explicitly excepted in the treaty. Sinclair cautions that this may not be good enough. 

“For the first time we are agreeing to an architecture that is contrary to existing policies. Your exceptions have to be well thought out and ironclad because they are likely to be contested. Once a policy requires protection it invariably becomes a bargaining chip and a target in the future.”

Sinclair points to Investor Protection chapters in CETA as an especially dangerous tool in the hands of  corporations that wish to contest protected or excluded policies. Under NAFTA just over the last three months we have seen foreign investors challenge a moratorium on fracking in Quebec, the rejection of a drug patent, and a moratorium on offshore windmills in Lake Ontario.  

CETA will provide mechanisms similar to NAFTA's to challenge Canada's sovereignty.

To further illustrate this undermining of our ability to set public policy the Halifax Media Co-op asked Sinclair about a hypothetical  moratorium on salmon aquaculture in open waters. 

Sinclair's response is clear: “Certainly if foreign investors were involved they could challenge such a moratorium under NAFTA or CETA.  And if the challenge were successful it would force the federal government to pay damages. So if you move ahead you can be sued. Such threats have a chilling effect and could easily create a disincentive to regulate at all.”

And do not look for the Harper government to provide a strong defence when challenged. Powerful local interests stand to gain from globalization, and it is with their laissez-faire agenda that Harper naturally aligns.  

Jordan Nikoloyuk, sustainable fisheries co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, is worried: “We believe that an owner operated fisheries is absolutely critical for rural Nova Scotia's fishing communities to thrive. CETA may provide a path away from that.  I don't yet know a lot about the details, but losing the ability to make public policy altogether is very concerning. To have that ability slip away without even realizing it is very concerning.”

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Topics: Governance
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