© Guardian photo by Teresa Wright
Egmont MP Gail Shea in her Charlottetown office
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union will be good for Prince Edward Island’s struggling lobster industry.
Tariffs currently range between 11 to 25 per cent for seafood going into the European market.
This trade deal could significantly lower or eliminate these tariffs, opening up a whole continent of new markets for P.E.I. lobster and seafood.
“As these tariffs disappear over time, this should be very good news for the fish and seafood sector,” Shea said Friday. “This is very important for the economy of Prince Edward Island and, as minister of fisheries and oceans, I certainly couldn’t be happier.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the agreement-in-principle with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels, Belgium. Details contained within the agreement itself are still confidential and it is estimated it could yet be another 18 to 24 months before final approvals are reached.
Shea says when it does go through, it could be just the solution P.E.I.’s lobster industry has been looking for.
Low prices for lobster led P.E.I. fishermen to stage a major strike during the spring fishing season earlier this year after they were offered only $2.75 to $3.25 per pound for their catches. The strike swept through the Maritimes and nearly brought the industry to a standstill.
Since then, a regional panel has been struck to look at factors affecting lobster prices in the Maritimes and the provincial government hired a former auditor general to also examine the issue.
Shea has said she believes the problems stem from supply and demand – when lobster is in season, the market is often flooded with product, which in turn lowers prices.
“The industry is in a position where they can control supply. The federal government is in a position where they can help increase demand through negotiating trade agreements such as this,” Shea said Friday.
P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association president Mike McGeogheghan says he is cautiously optimistic about whether the Canada-EU trade agreement will be positive for the industry.
“Like any of these deals, you’ve got to read the small print,” he said.
“It’s possible it could open some doors for supply. To put lobsters into Europe without that tariff on it, that would be good. We just hope it’s not a race to the bottom for price.”
In spite of the expensive tariffs currently in place, P.E.I. lobster is already shipped regularly to a number of European countries, including Germany, Belgium, England and France.
McGeogheghan says he hopes the elimination of these tariffs will increase these exports and boost prices paid for P.E.I. lobster.
“We want to be able to sell them to Europe at a decent price so that it will bring value back to the fishermen.”
P.E.I.’s deputy premier George Webster welcomed the progress announced on the trade agreement Friday.
“The European Union is already Prince Edward Island’s second largest trading partner and this arrangement will only strengthen that relationship,” Webster said in a statement.
Webster acknowledged the agreement could impact the dairy industry and the costs of certain prescription medicines.
But the province hopes to work with the federal government to try to mitigate any potential negative effects in these areas.
Harper has already said the provinces were told during negotiations that Ottawa would compensate them for any additional cost to the Canadian health-care system.
Shea encouraged Island business owners and entrepreneurs to begin reaching out to potential European trading partners now, in anticipation of this agreement coming to fruition in future.
With files from the Canadian Press.