Christmas is a time for fellowship and giving, where, for a very brief period in time, an aura of peace and goodwill that seems to permeate the psyche of many of us, placing what we perceive as ill winds at bay, at least for a few weeks.
The problem is, when we awake from the festivities, the ever-so-brief lull which is like medication to dull the pain does nothing to solve the cause of the pain.
Free trade deals between nations have become a fact of life and as with most deals there are winners and losers. The North American Free Trade deal destroyed the Canadian textile industry as jobs moved primarily to Mexico. But our manufacturers gained more access to the U.S. market. Coupled with a low Canadian dollar, one would have to admit that it has been on the plus side for Canada.
The deal was front and centre during the recent U.S. presidential election with President-Elect Donald Trump vowing to dismantle it and stop a similar deal with the European Community from emerging as well as one with Asia. Even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton wasn’t too happy with the Asian free trade deal and suggested some fine tuning might be in order before she gets onboard.
Canada being a country which depends on exports as the basis for its economic existence, free trade deals with other countries — especially Asia and Europe — are highly desirable.
We’ve seen what sales to China, Korea and Singapore meant to the bottom line of lobster harvesters and shippers in the last two years. Increased sales to these areas have revived prices paid at the wharf from a low of $3.25/pound to in excess of $6.50 on opening day and remaining throughout the fishing season, as was the case in LFA 33-34 in 2015-2016.
The Asian connection remains strong and the attention during the past year was attuned towards Europe and a free trade deal which has been worked on for the past seven years. Even without a deal, sales to Germany — for example — of Canadian lobster have greatly increased during the past two years.
The deal between Canada and the European Union was due to be signed by Oct. 27. Twenty seven of the 28 European countries signed on.
A big thorn in the process turned up in Belgium in the area of Wallonia which appeared at the time to scuttle the deal and set a precedent which could impact the union’s ability to act according to the wishes of its members. There has to be 100 per cent agreement on such a deal on the part of the Europeans or it’s a no go.
The much-touted trade deal with the EU could have been off because pork and beef producers in this small Belgium area didn’t like the deal because they felt they couldn’t compete price-wise with the Canadian product.
Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland tried to avoid this disaster by appealing directly to the issue in Brussels in mid-October. She eventually walked out in tears over the issue, stating that it was obvious that the European Union was incapable of reaching an agreement.
Because of hefty duties, Europe hasn’t been a major consumer of Canadian fish products, although lobster imports from our country have increased during the past two years. Up to 2012, Europe was lumped in with such countries and China and Hong Kong in terms of export value at $10-$15-million compared to over $600-million for the U.S. market.
Both the latter countries have blossomed, but are still far behind the United States as the mainstay of lobster sales from this country. Lobster sales in Europe have also increased substantially the past 24 months.
A free trade deal would enhance our presence in the European market, especially in the case of shellfish such as lobsters, scallops, crab, oysters and mussels, as crippling tariffs would disappear — meaning more market access, more sales and more bucks for the harvesters and all those along the supply chain.
All this was put on hold because of pork and beef producers in the three million strong district of Wallonia.
Obviously the wishes of the many in this case had been undone by the fears of the few.
If this deal fell through, a potential similar arrangement with the United States would not stand a chance and Europe was bound to lose big time on that one, as it would be denied access to one of the most viable and sought after markets on the planet.
But cooler heads prevailed.
The Belgians were appeased and the deal was officially signed on October 29 by Prime Minister Trudeau and the EU dignitaries.