Seafood Sector Sees Huge Upside in EU Free Trade

resources | BCBusiness

A pending free-trade agreement with Europe promises huge upside for  B.C. seafood exports, currently worth $1 billion annually

The potential benefits of the Harper government’s announced Canada-Europe trade agreement have begun to emerge, as seafood groups in B.C. applaud new access to international markets.

Although British Columbians have been exporting canned salmon to Europe for more than 100 years, trade has been hampered by high tariffs, often more than 20 per cent.

“Current tariffs on Canadian fish and seafood products into the European Union can make them uncompetitive,” says Chris Sporer, executive director of the Seafood Producers Association of B.C. “For instance, the levies on smoked salmon, frozen tuna loins and canned tuna range from 22 per cent to 24 per cent.”

Christina Burridge of the B.C. Seafood Alliance believes elimination of tariffs will open access to European seafood markets: “For the West Coast, the biggest opportunities are likely in smoked salmon, tuna loins and specialty canned products, all of which have been subject to tariffs of over 20 per cent. For high-cost retail products, this has been an impossible barrier.”

Even for traditional export products such as canned salmon, where the tariff is five per cent, Burridge says, “removal will give us a short to medium term advantage over the U.S., especially since our quality is generally better.”

B.C. seafood exports totaled $911 million in 2011 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), with wild seafood accounting for two-thirds of that total. In 2011, B.C. exported $518 million in seafood to the U.S.,  $109 million to Japan and $38 million to Europe.

“I expect that the I-5 corridor will remain the main market for fresh seafood from B.C., while Asia will be the most important for live, frozen and specialty products,” says Burridge. “But preferential access to a lucrative market with consumers willing to pay top price gives alternatives to fishermen and processors that we did not have before.”

Although the full details of the trade agreement have not yet been made public, a summary states that 95.5 per cent of fish and seafood products will be duty free immediately, increasing to 100 per cent after seven years. Prim Minister Harper has said he expects the agreement to be approved by 2015.

Burridge says that the deal will also establish a bilateral “fish committee” to deal with non-tariff issues, such as health and safety. “This is also very important to us, as the EU is always a difficult market in terms of regulatory access,” she adds.