What does CETA mean for Port Access?

Posted By on Nov 6, 2013 | 0 comments

You may have seen the recent news article which alleges that Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) will open our ports to European ships as it requires them to be given Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) status. If you have not yet read it, I highly suggest you take a look at it here. The piece I am citing, from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), alleges that this will prevent Canadian fisheries from being able to utilize a key tool for putting pressure on fishing vessels which violate catching quotas and other evironmental protections. This piece will discuss what these claims mean, and whether CETA will have this drastic of an effect upon our fisheries.

Most Favoured Nation

MFN treatment was originally one of the ideological tenants behind General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The concept is tied to the idea that nations covered under this idea are treated as well as any other nation whom, in this case, Canada trades with. Alternatively, treatment must be “no less favourable than that it accords to like services and service suppliers of any other country”.1 If CETA labels all fishing vessels from Europe as having MFN treatment, which is hard to determine given the limited nature of released information, it appears that port access will be removed from the tools which Canadian fisheries possess. If Canada desires this as a tool, it simply needs to utilize it fairly across all nations. This may require significant renegotiation of multiple treaties between many nations, effectively removing this as an option which Canada may possess.

Restricting Port Access

The dream of a comprehensive and enforced set of legal rules for for the high seas is one that is not near realization. For such an anarchical system2 port states regularly resort to alternative methods which allow them to enforce rules. In Canada and other nations, this has demonstrated itself through many tools, including port access.3 Other examples include prohibitions on landings, transhipment of catch, port closures and denial of port services.4 In the past, it has similarly been a useful tool for limiting the use of ‘flag-of-convenience’ states, particularly in instances where several nations are able to coordinate.5 As a result, similar to what is said in the article, restriction of port access has been useful for imposing catch restrictions.

Environmental Protection

Lest this be thought to be concerns over nothing, there have been incidents of illegal fishing off of Canadian waters in the past. As recently as the beginning of October 2013, European and Russian ships have been cited for illegally harvesting 431.7 tonnes of redfish off of the coast of Newfoundland.6 Several of the vessels in question had a history of overfishing in these waters. This repeated overfishing threatens the already strained stocks in this region, which in turn threatens the livelihood of our own Canadian east coast fishermen. There have been many agreements entered into between Canada and nations around the world to protect fisheries stocks, but without measures to enforce these agreements it is hard to see how they will have any effect.


It remains to be seen if this is merely the first in a number of trade liberalization treaties which may expose our fisheries. There have been, already, skirmishes between Canada and other major powers in regards to protecting our fisheries.7 Our fisheries are being pressured to not only compete on the international stage, but must also by the environmental damage that is being done to our oceans and fisheries.


1Definition here taken from General Agreement on Trade in Services, 15 April 1994, 1869 UNTS 183, 33 ILM 1167 (entered into force 1 January 1995), being Annex B to the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, 15 April 1994, 33 ILM 1143 (entered into force 1 January 1995) [GATS].

2Jaye Ellis, “Fisheries Conservation in an Anarchical System: A Comparison of Rational Choice and Constructivist Perspectives”, 3 JILIR 1.


4High Seas Task Force, Promoting Responsible Ports: Final Report (2006), para. 10. The High Seas Task Force is composed of ministerial-level representatives of the Governments of Australia, Canada, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as well as representatives of the World Wildlife Fund, World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University and was organized under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

5See Elizabeth DeSombre, “Fishing under Flags of Convenience: Using Market Power to Increase Participation in International Regulation” (2005) 5 Global Environmental Politics 73 at 88 ff.; DeSombre, Flagging Standards: Globalization and Environmental, Safety, and Labor Regulations at Sea (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006).

6Jamie Baker, “NAFO cites foreign vessels with illegally caught fish”, published on CBC.ca on Oct 4, 2013.

7Scott Sinclair, “Globalization, Trade Treaties, and the Future of the Atlantic Canadian Fisheries”, Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, January 2013.