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Trudeau offers support to Newfoundland over disputed fisheries fund

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 2, 2014.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he supports Newfoundland and Labrador's bid to get the federal government to spell out its financial commitment for a special fisheries fund.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government says Ottawa set up the Fisheries Investment Fund in exchange for the province giving up minimum processing requirements for fish plants as part of a free trade agreement with the European Union.

Earlier this month, Premier Paul Davis said the Harper government should honour its promise to put $280 million into the $400-million federal-provincial fund.

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However, the Prime Minister's Office has said an unspecified amount is available for direct losses in the fisheries sector but no "blank cheque" was ever offered.

In a letter to Davis, released Monday, Trudeau says while the Liberal party supports free trade with the European Union, it also believes that the Conservative government has failed to adequately address the concerns of the province's fish processors.

"The abolition of minimum processing requirements is clearly of great concern to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and your government's support of the (free trade deal) was earned, in part, by a promise from the government of Canada to help the industry adjust to the new reality," the letter says. "That promise should be honoured."

Davis has threatened to reconsider the province's support for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU if the dispute can't be resolved.

Trudeau's letter says the Liberal party has called for a more transparent approach to the trade deal, which "the Harper government has negotiated ... without proper public debate."

"As a result, the government has failed to adequately address the concerns of Canadian sectors that may be negatively affected by CETA, including Newfoundland and Labrador's fish processors."

The federal NDP has already committed to honouring the $400-million deal if it wins the next election.

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