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Newfoundland & Labrador’s non-compliance on MPRs raises spectre of ISDS challenges against Canada

The Council of Canadians opposes the ending of minimum processing requirements (MPRs) under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Newfoundland and Labrador government had traded MPRs away under CETA with the understanding that the federal government would pay $280 million into a $400 million provincial fisheries fund. But later the Harper government balked at that saying the payment would be tied to “demonstrated losses” in the fisheries and that it was never intended to be a “blank cheque”.

Now, Newfoundland and Labrador says MPRs will not be removed as required by CETA.

CBC reports, “The province [says] it will not relinquish authority over minimum fish processing requirements, or MPRs. Darin King, Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, said the decision is related to the federal government’s refusal to live up to an agreement reached in 2013 on the creation of a $400-million fisheries renewal fund, with Ottawa paying 70 per cent. …King said he also notified the European Union’s ambassador to Canada of the province’s decision. …This could create complications for the federal government as the trade deal gets closer to being ratified, because the elimination of MPRs is an element of the deal.”

The Canadian Press article on this highlights the “complications” this creates. It notes, “King said it will be up to the federal government to handle any trade disputes that may arise as the province asserts its jurisdictional right to maintain seafood processing requirement. ‘There could be fines, penalties and so on. That’s totally out of our control.'”

In other words, a European corporation could use the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in CETA to sue the federal government (not the provincial government) for lost profits resulting from this action. While federal trade minister Ed Fast has boasted that the federal government has the exclusive jurisdiction to sign the deal, the Globe and Mail reported in January on this very issue of the provincial government having the power to create the circumstance whereby the federal government would be subject to ISDS challenges because of provincial non-compliance with the deal.

That said, the Canadian Press also reports, “King says the province supports CETA, despite its dispute over minimum processing requirements. …[He] said the province will support CETA otherwise and resume its place in other negotiations. ‘Because we have a dispute on the fishery fund, we’re not prepared to say, well, we’ll do without any other benefits in any other deals. We’ll move forward.'”

The Council of Canadians has called on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to oppose CETA and to maintain the MPRs. We have also called on the provincial government to hold public consultations to hear the broader range of concerns about the deal, including the ISDS provision and the increased costs for pharmaceutical drugs due to the deal’s intellectual property provisions that extend drug patents for profitable transnational corporations while at the same time delaying the introduction of less-expensive generic drugs. Earlier this week, VOCM reported Council of Canadians St. John’s chapter activist Ken Kavanagh saying the patent provisions could cost the province up to $46 million a year.

For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.