One of the biggest interprovincial trade barriers in Atlantic Canada — restrictions on the export of live snow crab between three provinces — was exempted from the Canada Free Trade Agreement unveiled Friday in Toronto.
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Quebec, require snow crab landed in their province be processed in their province.
And that is just fine with Osborne Burke, who runs Victoria Co-op Fisheries Ltd. in northern Cape Breton. It's one of eight plants in Nova Scotia that process snow crab.
"We support the provision that is there now. It protects keeping the product here in Nova Scotia," Burke told CBC News.
Landings worth $400M
There is a lot at stake.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimated 2015 snow crab landings between the three provinces at over $400 million.
Nova Scotia has embedded its protectionist measure in its provincial buyers licence.
"No licence holder shall export live unprocessed snow crab to the provinces of Newfoundland and Quebec," the licence states.
However, Nova Scotia says it wants the barriers down.
"The fact that there are barriers right now is what causes us concern. The whole idea of this Canada Free Trade Agreement is to remove those type of barriers to allow private industry to compete no matter what province they find themselves in," said Nova Scotia Trade Minister Michel Samson.
He said a working committee will be struck as part of the agreement, to address so-called minimum processing requirements and any other issues relating to protectionism in the fishing industry.
There is no timeline on the committee.
"Nova Scotia pushed hard for this committee to be put in place, so we can finally start addressing minimum processing requirements in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec," Samson said.
Retaliation to N.L. and Quebec
The Nova Scotia government — and Burke — argue Nova Scotia has been forced to retaliate when buyers from Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec would buy snow crab landed in Nova Scotia while those two provinces remained closed off to exports.
Nova Scotia's licence restriction has been in place for more than a decade.
"If all the barriers are removed that is fine, it's an even playing field," Burke said.
If the restrictions are all removed and Newfoundland has an increase in quota and we can go there and buy it and they come here and buy it, that is fair ball."
N.B. and N.S. free trade
Snow crab protectionism is not the case everywhere in the region.
The crustacean moves freely between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where companies trade between themselves regularly.