Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to join in the debate on the NDP opposition motion concerning the minimum processing requirement fund in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Before I begin, there may be some questions. People in this House or perhaps those who are watching on television may be wondering why a member of Parliament from a land-locked province like Saskatchewan would be joining into a debate on a fisheries issue that primarily deals with some concerns the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador would have. The answer to that is very simply because the larger context of what we are debating today is really about the Canada–Europe trade agreement, also known as CETA.
I am joining in this debate because CETA would positively affect every region of Canada. Whether it is the fisheries industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, the forestry industry in Quebec and British Columbia, the manufacturing industry in Ontario, or the grains and oilseed industry in the prairies, CETA would have a positive impact on literally every sector of the Canadian economy and every industry within Canada. That is why this debate is so important: to be able to point out to members opposite and to those who may be listening to this debate that signing the Canada–Europe trade agreement is one of the largest and most significant trade deals this country has ever engaged in. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that it is the most important trade agreement our country has ever entered into.
The reason is quite simple. First, the European Union has 500 million consumers that Canada would now have preferential access to. Second, since we already entered into an agreement several years ago with the United States, the North American free trade agreement, Canada would now be the only G7 country that has preferential access to two of the world's largest consumer bases: 500 million people in the European Union on one side and 300 million people in the United States on the other side. We are the only country that would have preferential access to that consumer market.
In real terms, this would mean to Canada about an additional $12 billion in economic activity. If we want to drill that down to a per-household level, it comes out to about $1,000 per household. That is how much money this agreement with Europe would mean. It is the equivalent of about 80,000 additional jobs in Canada. It is a huge deal. That is why we have had unprecedented support from industry leaders, from union leaders, from consumer groups, and from trade analysts. Everyone who has examined this agreement agrees that it is a big win for Canada. That is why all of the provinces are on side with this agreement as well. All of the individual sectors in the industry within Canada's provinces and territories would also benefit from this agreement.
However, what we have here today is a situation in which some people are suggesting that this agreement would not be a good deal for Newfoundland and Labrador. In particular, the complaint coming from members opposite is that removing the minimum processing requirements would be injurious to the fish and seafood processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Perhaps I should first take a moment to explain, at least as I know it, what the minimum processing requirement is.
It was set up several decades ago as a policy imposed by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to assist and in many ways protect the fisheries processing industry. In other words, quite simply it states that there has to be a minimum processing element of all fish and seafood from Newfoundland and Labrador before they can be shipped to the European Union or anywhere outside of Canada.
Why was this requirement put on? Again, to stimulate the processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and to protect those jobs. In other words, if I were a cod fisher, I could not necessarily ship all of my raw product to Europe. I would be required to give a certain amount of that raw product to the processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador so they could then process it and sell it as a value-added product worldwide. In particular, we are talking about the European Union.
The only problem with that is that while it may have been good at the time for the processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is viewed, and quite correctly, as an unfair trade policy. In this day and age of global trading, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that trading practices between countries are fair and just. Because this would be a distortion of fair trade policy, if we entered into CETA with the European Union, any one of their member states could look at this minimum processing requirement in Newfoundland and Labrador and say, quite correctly, that it was an unfair trade policy and demand that it end. It was a legitimate concern of the European Union.
During negotiations, our government negotiators agreed that the practice should in fact end, but we also recognized in discussions with Newfoundland and Labrador government officials that this could have some negative impact on the processing industry. In other words, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador pointed out to our trade negotiators that ending the minimum processing requirements might result in some lost revenue. It might even result in some job losses, because if fishers were not required to use the processing industry before their products were shipped overseas, it could have or might have a negative impact on the processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We recognized that argument. Our government said that if it could be demonstrated that there is injury, that there may be some lost revenue, that there may be some job losses, that there may be some problems that the removal of the minimum processing requirement creates within the industry, we will then agree for some compensation.
This is not unusual. As we negotiated CETA, various sectors and various regions of the country pointed out there could be some negative impact as a result of signing this deal. Time after time, we were able to negotiate with the respective sectors some sort of a counterbalance, some negotiated settlement to offset the potential revenue loss or job loss. That is what we did in this case with Newfoundland and Labrador. We said that if there is to be injury, if there is to be lost revenue, if there are job losses, we will be there.
Hence, the agreement was to set up a fund, the minimum processing requirement fund. It was a $400 million fund agreed upon by both the province and the federal government. The federal government would fund up to 70%, or $280 million, if there was proven, empirical evidence that there was injury because of the removal of this requirement.
I keep using the word “if”, because it has not been demonstrated yet that there would be any loss of revenue or loss of jobs. In fact, I recall that when this agreement was first announced, the then president of the fisheries union in Newfoundland and Labrador, a gentleman by the name of Earle McCurdy, said he did not think there would be any problems caused by removing the minimum processing requirement.
He pointed out that they were better off than processing plants in Europe, China, and the United States. Their wages are higher, and electricity and energy costs are higher. We are closer to the marketplace. In other words, we do not have to have a minimum processing requirement because our processors will be able to compete quite favourably with anyone else in the world. We do not need the protection that the minimum processing requirement currently affords. That was the president of the fisheries union.
I understand that recently he has changed his tune somewhat; he is now a nominated NDP candidate in the province. Once he became a member of the NDP his initial thoughts have changed, and now removing the minimum processing requirements will be a terrible thing for the province. It shows how myopic the New Democrats truly are, who do not want any trade deals with any country. That is clearly the reality.