Could Free Trade End Canada's Cabotage Laws?

Protests against CETA, November 2016 (file image)

By MarEx 2017-01-13 21:41:58

Maritime unions in Canada are concerned that the recently signed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will damage the nation's mariritime industry, reducing the number of Canadian-crewed vessels.

Among its 1600 pages of provisions, CETA includes language that could allow EU shipowners and their subsidiaries to run domestic feeder services in Canada, and it may prohibit Canadian laws requiring "all or part of any international cargo to be transported exclusively by vessels registered in that [nation] or controlled by nationals of that [nation]." The EU believes that the agreement will give European firms more opportunities to provide "specialized maritime services like dredging, moving empty containers or shipping certain cargo within Canada."  

Canadian maritime stakeholders including the Seafarers International Union and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union view this as a potent threat to Canada's cabotage protections, which require the use of Canadian-owned, Canadian-flagged and Canadian-crewed ships for cargo carried between domestic ports. Already, several firms operate foreign-flagged vessels on domestic voyages thanks to a waiver program, and Canada's maritime unions are concerned that CETA could eliminate cabotage protections altogether. 

The ILWU staged a march to protest CETA in mid-November, joined by the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the BC Federation of Labor. On Wednesday, the union organized a broader protest, with demonstrations in five cities and participation from the SIU and the International Transport Workers Federation. 

The economic motivation for ending cabotage is powerful: Canadian seafarers receive a living wage exceeding $20 per hour, the ILWU says, while foreign crew can be hired for less than $20 per day. Eliminating cabotage laws “would get rid of good Canadian jobs . . . and pay some poor soul a dollar fifty or two bucks an hour – slave wages," warned ILWU Canada president Rob Ashton, speaking at a recent rally in Vancouver.