POLITICS

FFAW weighs pros, cons of minimum processing

05/30/2013 04:47 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:12 EDT
The president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union says it is worth revisiting Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum processing requirements.

Earle McCurdy says the European Union is one of the most important seafood markets in the world, but some local seafood faces high EU tariffs.

"We're currently at a competitive disadvantage in terms of the tariffs, regulations, and so on," said McCurdy.

"So this may be a chance to strengthen the industry, stabilize jobs in our plants and on our fishing boats, and just improve our return from the market."

On Monday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale revealed that Ottawa pressured her to drop minimum processing rules during last-minute talks on the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee.

Provincial regulations dictate that fish landed in Newfoundland and Labrador must be processed in the province, in the interest of protecting jobs for local plant workers.

The European Union wants the requirements dropped as part of free trade negotiations with Canada. That idea has worried plant workers, who have been afraid that their jobs could go to other countries.

Consider the options

But McCurdy said union members should not close the door without having had a look at what might be offered in return.

"We don't just simply say we've got to maintain a policy that's been on the book for X number of years without reviewing the costs and benefits and looking for a way to improve our return on the market," he said.

Officials with one local fish company have said lower tariffs could mean more local processing. For example, much of the company's locally-caught herring is shipped to Europe frozen, with minimum processing.

With lower tariffs, that same company says it would be able to ship pickled herring instead, which would create more jobs.

However, McCurdy said he is not convinced Europe would drop tariffs on Canadian seafood.

"As it stands today there doesn't appear to be a great deal for us," said McCurdy. "And it really depends on what happens over the next few days or couple of weeks."