Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking in response to Bill C-380. It goes without saying that this is a difficult issue.
Our Conservative government is committed to addressing the serious problem of shark finning. We are taking action on a number of fronts to end this deplorable activity. It is very important to note that shark finning has been banned in Canada since the mid-1990s.
The ban applies to Canadian waters and Canadian licensed vessels fishing outside our territorial waters. Canada is one of the first countries to implement a national plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.
Our government believes that working through regional fisheries management organizations, such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, to ensure strong management and enforcement practices globally, is the most effective way to prevent unsustainable practices such as finning.
We take seriously our legal obligation to prevent the import of products from shark species that are currently listed as endangered and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
These species are the great white shark, the whale shark and the basking shark.
I will speak specifically about the proposals in the bill that pertain to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's food safety obligations and the proposed changes to the Fish Inspection Act.
Let me begin by reiterating our government's unwaivering commitment to food safety and the role of the CFIA. The CFIA is already exploring what can be done on the importation of shark fins. Shark products for human consumption fall under regulations that address the importation of fish and seafood products. These regulations set standards for quality, safety and identification and are enforced by the CFIA.
The CFIA focuses solely on food safety and quality as well as consumer protection. All licence holders for Canadian shark fisheries and for fisheries where sharks are landed as bycatch are subject to licence conditions that prohibit them from engaging in shark finning. All licensed shark fishing vessels in Canada are subject to 100% monitoring. Non-compliance with a licence condition constitutes an offence under the Fisheries Act, as enforced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
As my hon. colleagues are aware, Bill C-380 proposes to prohibit the importation of shark fins unless authorized by a permit issued by the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The expertise and jurisdiction to make these determinations lie with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which therefore renders the licensing scheme in the bill through the Fish Inspection Act completely unfeasible.
I would first like to analyze this proposal in relation to Canada's existing Fish Inspection Act and then in relation to the new Safe Food for Canadians Act.
The Fish Inspection Act regulates issues related to the quality and safety of fish and seafood intended for human consumption. The importation ban set out in the Fish Inspection Regulations applies only to fish products that pose a risk of harm to human health.
However, there is no evidence that shark fins post a risk to human health.
If CFIA were to restrict the importation of shark fins for any reason other than food safety, it would leave Canada vulnerable to a trade challenge at the WTO. The proposed ban on shark fin imports does not prohibit the legal production and sale of domestic shark fins in Canada; it prohibits imports of shark fins that were legally produced in other countries. It is a protectionist policy, one that is not good for trade. This could pave the way for other countries to impose protectionist policies on Canadian imports with little to no basis. In fact, Canada is currently challenging the EU at the WTO on a similar type of ban on Canadian seal products.
Bill C-380's recommendations go beyond the framework of the existing regulations and the new, forthcoming regulations on food safety.
The bill also comes at a time when Canada's Fish Inspection Act will be repealed as our government's Safe Food for Canadians Act comes into force. The Safe Food for Canadians Act, which received royal assent this past fall, strengthens and modernizes our food safety system to make sure that it continues to provide for safe food for Canadians.
This legislation will provide appropriate measures to ensure that Canadians can continue to have faith in the effective protection provided by the CFIA. The main objective of the new legislative measures on food safety is to strengthen our ability to protect Canada's food supply and the health of Canadians.
The Safe Food for Canadians Act will allow us to achieve that by incorporating the provisions of various acts and regulations, including the Fish Inspection Act, in order to ensure more uniform treatment of food products.
Our government is unable to support the bill. However, it will continue to support responsible, legal shark harvesters and will crack down on those who break the rules.
I appreciate my hon. colleagues' full attention on this matter.