Canada, EU strike deal on indigenous-hunted seal products

Joint statement gives Inuit seal products access to EU market; non-aboriginal sealers left on the floe edge


Sealskin jackets made in Nunavut hang on display at a NAFFEM fur show in Montreal in 2013. (FILE PHOTO)

Sealskin jackets made in Nunavut hang on display at a NAFFEM fur show in Montreal in 2013. (FILE PHOTO)

(Updated 7:35 p.m., Oct. 13)

Four Canadian cabinet ministers, including Nunavut MP and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, announced Oct. 10 in Ottawa that they’ve struck a deal with the European Union to ensure seal products harvested by indigenous people in Canada may be sold within EU member states.

“We are pleased with this result. This joint statement charts out the course for greater market access for Canadian seal products and will help indigenous communities that depend on the seal hunt to provide for their families and maintain their traditional way of life,” Aglukkaq said in a statement.

The Canadian Sealers Association is still denouncing the wider Canada-EU trade agreement, or CETA, that the Oct. 10 seal statement is connected to, saying the narrow exemption for indigenous seal products isn’t good enough.

“It clearly demonstrates that their understanding of the east coast seal harvest is so narrow and misguided that it is destroying an industry that had been in existence for hundreds of years and is an intricate part of life for all rural people especially in Newfoundland and Labrador,” the association said in a statement issued Sept. 24.

“A strong commercial sealing industry is essential, if we are to keep a large seal population from getting out of control, and further raising havoc with a very delicate eco-system, that is already being tested to its limits,” the sealing association said.

The Canada-EU deal allows “non-indigenous persons” to process, market and manufacture seal products — from indigenous harvesters.

But non-indigenous hunters appear to be left out of the agreement and Canada appears to now accept the indigenous exemption that the European Parliament created in 2009.

The Canadian government, in a joint statement with EU officials, said they have agreed to a framework for co-operation in which the two sides will:

• ensure nothing prevents the participation of Canadian non-indigenous persons and organizations from processing, manufacturing and marketing Canadian indigenous seal products;

• explore possibilities for supporting indigenous communities and traditional ways of life through capacity building and the exchange of best practices;

• explore how indigenous communities can benefit from the new opportunities opened up by the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement to develop their economic, social and environmental potential; and,

• ensure that indigenous seal products imported into the European Union are not limited due to their type or intended purpose.

The two sides also said they will set up an expert group to work out the administrative details required to ensure that indigenous Canadian seal products gain entry to the EU market.

“The exemptions applied to the European Union’s prohibition on the importation of seals and seal products unfairly discriminated against Canadian Inuit, and we are hopeful that today’s announcement marks the commencement of a process that will rectify this concern,” Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea joined Aglukkaq in the announcement.

Terry Audla, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said in a statement that ITK is “encouraged” by the Canada-EU joint statement and sees it as an important first step in restoring economic opportunities for Inuit sealers.

“We believe that implementing such a plan will take much work and cooperation from all sides. It is critical that Inuit have direct participation as this work proceeds,” Audla said.

Audla said ITK will continue to push for direct Inuit participation in the implementation of the Canada-EU agreement.

And ITK also said that the plans announced Oct. 10 must work for all four Inuit regions and must include a “realistic phase-in timetable.”

“We remain hopeful that the trade of seal products — an abundant, renewable, sustainable and natural resource – be once again a generator of economic growth for Inuit communities,” Audla said.

The Inuit dispute with the European Union dates to May 2009, when the European Parliament voted to ban the importation of seal products within EU member states, with a vaguely-defined exemption for seal products harvested by indigenous hunters.

Canada, Norway and a variety of businesses and Inuit organizations tried and failed to overturn the ban in the European Court.

At the same time, Canada and Norway tried and failed to persuade the World Trade Organization that the EU seal ban violates international trade law.

But the Oct. 10 Canada-EU announcement appears to have been crafted to give indigenous seal product producers in Canada a way of using the EU exemption.

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