NORTHERN PENINSULA, N.L. – Community leaders across the Northern Peninsula are hopeful growing trade with the European Union will provide opportunities uniquely beneficial to the region.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU is particularly advantageous to the area’s fishery, with declining tariffs on aquatic exports such as lobster, crab, shrimp, cod and many other species.
As both minister of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation and MHA for the northern reaches of the peninsula from St. Barbe to L’anse aux Meadows, Chris Mitchelmore sees many possibilities through CETA.
“If you look at the position of the Northern Peninsula, with our fishery and St. Anthony having the second largest international shipping port in the province, we have tremendous opportunities,” said Mitchelmore. “In 2016 we had nearly $2 billion in exports from the province to the EU, and that’s quite significant.”
The agreement comes at a time when a sustainable future is of urgent and pressing concern to the region. With an aging population, youth out-migration, and many quota cuts across the province’s fishery, the Northern Peninsula has daunting obstacles in its path.
Sheila Fitzgerald, vice president of Municipalities NL and mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, feels the CETA agreement creates potential in the face of this uncertain future.
“This agreement will have a huge impact for us, particularly on rural Newfoundland and what the future of our communities is going to look like,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s a lot of people wondering what the spin-off from this will be, with reviving our industries and securing a future for our communities and the next generation.”
Quality over quantity
With the largest seafood market in the world, the EU allows processors and harvesters of Atlantic Canada to diversify and expand their markets. Sam Elliott, executive director for St. Anthony Basins Resources Inc. (SABRI), hopes the opening up of trade to Europe will counter the cuts in quota and allocation that have happened in some species for the province, particularly with shrimp.
“We have to look at the market values in those areas and find ways to capitalize on that,” said Elliott. “Hopefully we can find a larger value for our product in Europe and get a better share that way.”
Jack Daly is a Memorial University student currently going for his masters in geography. The focus of his thesis is to study how the CETA agreement will affect the fishery of the Northern Peninsula, and he’s currently in the area to meet with residents. He sees the need to create a high-quality product for Europe as an essential effort.
“How processors and fishers take advantage of this agreement in the face of having their quotas cut is a big focus of my research,” Daly said. “To differentiate the fishery up here from what is sold in other places is an area of opportunity. We’re looking at a lower quantity of fish, but a better price for a better-quality catch.”
The shrimp fishery, which in years past was a vital economic source for the many outport communities of the region, has taken a major hit with strong quota cuts in the past few years. With shrimp tariffs being phased out, Daly is hoping to speak with processors on how they can up the quality of their shrimp and outshine other shrimp exports to the EU.
“Europe imports a lot of shrimp from Southeast Asia, it isn’t the highest quality but it is high quantity,” he said. “A lot of consumers are looking for not only a higher quality, but also seafood that is sustainably caught. These environmental concerns are growing here especially.”
Combating processing limitations
As part of the CETA agreement, Newfoundland and Labrador’s minimum processing requirements are being phased out along with the tariffs. This was an area of tension during the negotiations, particularly because processing plants are a major employer in rural Newfoundland.
Elliott of SABRI says this can in many ways be an incentive to improve the processing capabilities and technologies within the Northern Peninsula, to show the benefits of processing in the province even after the minimum requirements are phased out.
“To take something from here and carry it across an ocean to be processed, if you’re going to try and do it in a fresh state, there’s timelines and you’re working against the clock,” said Elliott. “If they’ve got the technology to take our product and maintain the quality in the time it takes to produce it and put it to market, then we should be able to figure out what that technology is and do it better.”
Clearwater Seafoods in St. Anthony and the Northern Lights Seafood plant in Main Brook were reached for comment but did not reply by deadline.
Using the international port
Through the St. Anthony Cold Storage facility and Eimskip Canada, the town of St. Anthony provides a direct transport and trade network to Europe. The blasting of ocean rock across the town’s harbour has been underway to allow bigger vessels to come into the St. Anthony shores for offloading container ships.
Now with this blasting of harbour rock nearing completion, chair of the St. Anthony Port Authority Ernest Simms has been hard at work for the past few years hoping to bring a new wharf to enhance even further container ship movement in the region.
“The wharf at the cold storage doesn’t have the capacity for the newer ships coming on line now that do not have cranes on board,” said Simms. “We want to stay up-to-date to offer services, and through improving and expanding CETA can definitely tie into that.”
Mitchelmore agrees the international port in St. Anthony makes the increase of exporting destined to come through CETA highly beneficial.
“With the port working so actively we’re definitely strategically positioned to capitalize on these opportunities,” said Mitchelmore.
The applications to expand with a new wharf have been sent in to the federal government, and many in the region are anticipating the response.
“Hopefully the government will recognize the importance of the north and provide us that facility,” said Elliott.
The benefits of increased trade to the EU will also tie in with the upgrades offered through the Canadian government’s Atlantic Fisheries Fund and the possibility for a future tunnel linking the Northern Peninsula to mainland Canada.
Daly is keeping all of these factors in mind as he works in the region for the next few weeks. He’s hoping to speak with as many local people and decision-makers as he can, and to eventually release his findings back to the Northern Peninsula communities.