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CETA and Sweden’s call for a trade ban on North American lobsters

The North American lobster.

The Swedish government is concerned about imported North American lobsters spreading diseases to European lobsters in their coastal waters and is calling for a trade ban on live lobsters.

The Canadian Press reports, “Last week, Sweden’s Environment Ministry petitioned the European Union to list the American lobster as a foreign species, which would prohibit U.S. and Canadian exports of live lobsters to its 28 member states. The move would pose a major threat to Canada’s East Coast fishery which exported about $75 million in live lobster to European markets last year…”

The article explains, “A risk assessment study conducted by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management says small numbers of American lobster (Homarus americanus) have been found since 1988 off Great Britain, Norway and Sweden. The report says 32 have been found off Sweden’s west coast between 2008 and 2015, with one of the larger concentrations found in the Gullmar fiord in 2014. Of the 19 caught that year, one female was found with genetically confirmed hybrid eggs indicating cross-breeding between species. It says the presence of all of the lobsters are due to human activity, meaning they had been released through various means to the wild.”

The article highlights, “The report also singles out concerns over the spread of three diseases that could threaten European lobsters, including epizootic shell disease, gaffkemia — a lethal bacterial blood disease — and white tail spot syndrome. …While the Swedish report concedes there is no proven establishment of American lobster in its coastal waters, it says the risk climbs as trade increases. ‘In the marine environment prevention seems to be the only feasible alternative’, says the report. ‘Immediate import bans to these countries will decrease the risk for permanent establishment and need for eradication programmes.'”

The Guardian UK adds, “Sweden has approached the EU commission, the EU’s executive body, under the EU’s invasive alien species regulation, which came into force last year. Such species are considered to be one of the major causes of biodiversity loss; its cost to the European economy is estimated to be at least €12bn a year in areas such as health care and animal health costs, crop yield losses, fish stock losses and damage to protected species. EU scientists will consider Sweden’s request at the start of next month. …If the EU’s scientific forum approves Sweden’s submission, its inclusion will have to be considered at the invasive alien species committee (comprised of member states representatives) and the World Trade Organization.”

A trade ban based on these concerns would relate to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Global Affairs Canada has noted, “Canada’s fish and seafood exports to the EU were worth an average of $390 million per year between 2011 and 2013. These exports face average EU tariffs of 11 percent, with peaks of 25 percent. When CETA comes into force, almost 96 percent of EU tariffs lines for fish and seafood products will be duty-free. Seven years later, 100 percent of these tariff lines will be duty-free, making these world-class products more competitive and creating the conditions for increased sales.” EU tariffs would be eliminated on both live and frozen lobster.

The Guardian article cautions, “While the more cynical may see the Swedish move as disguised protectionism, concerns [about harm to European lobsters] are not entirely misplaced. Wildlife experts say the American lobster, which may also be slightly larger and different in colour to the native European lobster, brings dangers to European lobsters. ‘They pose several potential risks for native species, competing for space and resources, they can interbreed with local species and produce hybrid species, which we don’t know will be viable or not’, said Dr Paul Stebbing of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture science.”

If the European Union were to impose a trade ban on live North American lobsters, CETA would arguably provide a mechanism in which Canadian and US investors could use the investment protection provision to challenge that regulation through a special arbitration court only available to corporations.

It is also possible that fear of an ISDS challenge – known as the chill effect – would prevent such a regulation from being approved despite the potential risks for native species of imported live lobsters.

The European Union will reportedly make its decision in June.