Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic March 18, 2014 - 8:07 am

Nunavut MP Aglukkaq leads latest Canadian seal ban appeal at WTO

NS students to hold another demo at noon March 18 on Parliament Hill

Two harvested ring seals in Qikiqtarjuaq. (FILE PHOTO)
Two harvested ring seals in Qikiqtarjuaq. (FILE PHOTO)

The World Trade Organization’s most recent ruling in favour of the European Union’s ban on seal products — which justifies trade bans on “moral grounds” — sets a dangerous precedent in global trade, says Leona Aglukkaq, the federal environment minister and MP for Nunavut.

Aglukkaq, who heads a Canadian delegation in a three-day appeal hearing with the WTO’s appellate body, presented Canada’s opening arguments at day one of the hearing, held March 17 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The sealing industry is very well-regulated, it’s humane, it’s sustainable — our ancestors have been doing this for thousands of years,” Aglukkaq said in an interview.

“To use the moral argument outside of science and good management practices is going down a slippery slope. If you start conservation decisions on that basis for seals, the bear or caribou — what’s next?”

Canada filed its appeal earlier this year against a Nov. 25 WTO decision to uphold the EU ban on the sale of seal products.

The ban has “devastated” the Canadian sealing industry since it took effect in 2009, Aglukkaq said.

According to the Canadian Seals and Sealing Network, the commercial value of seal products produced in the country’s largest-producing province, Newfoundland and Labrador, amounted to $55 million in 2006.

It has since dropped to just $3.2 million in 2013.

“The impacts have been substantial,” said Dion Dakins, chairman of the not-for-profit network, which represents the industry.

The effect of the ban extends across the industry, including indigenous peoples of northern Canada, Aglukkaq said.

And EU provisions to exempt indigenous hunters from the ban are meaningless, she said.

Inuit, for example, “rely on the broader Canadian seal industry to sell their products, and without them we have no way to reach the European market,” Aglukkaq said.

The EU has extended exemptions on seal harvesting for Greenland, and has approached the Canadian government to do the same.

But the Canadian government says it needs a solution that encompasses the entire industry.

Countries in the European Union were the greatest market for Canadian seal products – including furs, hides, oil and meats, until the ban hit in 2009.

The United States, through its Marine Mammal Protection Act, has banned the importation of Canadian seal products since 1972.

Norway is also appealing the EU ban on similar grounds.

Canada’s concerns over loss of markets is not limited to indigenous peoples of Canada’s north, Aglukkaq said.

The appeal concerns the entire industry, which includes other provinces and territories.

“We have Canadian sealers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec that are not indigenous as well,” she said.

“Sealers have the right to make a living, just like fishermen have a right to make a living from fishing or farmers have a right to make a living off their farms.”

The WTO’s Nov. 25 judgment did find that the European Union’s ban on Canadian seal products was not consistent with fair trade practices, a finding that provides Canada and Norway with a glimmer of hope.

According to the Canadian Seals and Sealing Network, which has helped advise the government on the appeal, the WTO judgment contravenes a number of articles under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — a set of regulations that govern international trade.

“The precedence set by a group of nations (under the EU) that can ban trade that was sustainably harvested, a humanely harvested natural resource — is a Pandora’s box in terms of how we are going to regulate the trade of these products in the future,” said Dakins, who is attending the hearings as an observer.

The Canadian government hopes to hear a final decision on the appeal in April, Aglukkaq said.

Meanwhile, students from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program will hold a demonstration and sealskin fashion show on Parliament Hill March 18 at noon.

Duane Smith, head of the Canadian section of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, each said their organizations will continue to oppose the EU seal product ban.

“Inuit should be able to engage in free and open trade that is unrestricted by cultural and moral bias. We are citizens of the 21st century and participants in a modern economy, and the EU’s Orwellian trade obstruction is a relic of a distant era when lawmakers unilaterally determined the tastes of a nation,” Audla said in a statement.

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