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Marked cards

It appears obvious now the provincial government was bluffing two years ago when it played up minimum processing requirements (MPRs) to extract a fisheries transition fund out of the federal government.

Not that it wasn’t already clear at the time.

In September 2014, then-premier Tom Marshall released documents relating to the province’s negotiations on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Deal (CETA). That was just before Paul Davis took the reins.

The bulk of them were correspondences between the federal and provincial ministers confirming, among other things, a vague agreement to establish a joint fisheries fund to help “transition” the fisheries. It was framed as recompense for giving up MPRs, which allowed the province to prevent raw product from being shipped elsewhere.

But among the documents released by the province in September were third-party correspondences that suggested MPRs had already become irrelevant.

The Fisheries Council of Canada, the provincial Association of Seafood Producers and even the FFAW union pointed to exemptions granted by the province. All these interest groups said tariffs were the main bargaining chip. MPRs were already a dead issue.

The province’s response? These groups were irresponsible to be meddling in trade talks, and the federal government had possibly violated confidentiality by engaging them.

That may be true. And it’s also true the federal minister did appear to acquiesce when asked to throw in $270 million towards a fisheries fund.

But the rationale for that fund had already been busted. And that makes it all the harder to hold Ottawa to its word – as the provincial government has been trying to do for the past year.

Last month, an access to information request by the CBC confirmed that the province already approves a majority of the MPR exemptions requested. They approved close to two-thirds of the applications in 2010, but approved 27 of 29 requests during the last half of 2014.

Millions of pounds of fish were exempted, primarily cod.

At best, the data shows that relaxing processing requirements — once promised as rare exceptions to the rule — long ago became the new normal.

But everyone already knew that, right?

Trade deals are a little like Texas Hold ‘Em. Most of the cards are on the table, but everyone wants to think the ones they’re holding will give them the advantage.

In this case, the province’s cards were already marked.

And it’s hard to win the pot when everyone knows what you’re holding.

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