EU okays exemption allowing Inuit-harvested sealskins

“This is an important step towards the recognition of sealing as a way of life for Inuit”


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

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

The European Union has rubber-stamped the Government of Nunavut’s request for exemption under its seal regime, the GN said July 31.

That formalizes a deal first struck in 2014, which will allow Nunavut harvesters to sell seal skins and seal skin products in the European market again.

“This is an important step towards the recognition of sealing as a way of life for Inuit, and is the result of close cooperation between the department of Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other sealing stakeholders,” Nunavut’s environment minister, Johnny Mike, said in a July 31 news release.

“We must ensure that communities benefit in a tangible way from this positive development by continuing to promote the recovery of international seal markets.”

International demand and prices for seal skins collapsed following the EU ban on the import of seal skin products, which passed the European Parliament in 2009.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

And although the initial ban contained an exemption for indigenous peoples, Canadian Inuit had no practical way to take advantage of it.

That’s until the federal government, with the EU, created a certification system that would allow Canadian indigenous seal products into the EU market.

Under that arrangement, the two sides agreed to the following:

• 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-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement to develop their economic, social and environmental potential; and,

Government of Nunavut, Employment Opportunities

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

In the federal government’s spring budget, it announced $5.7 million aimed at helping Inuit seal products gain access to the EU market — money that has helped to fund that certification system.

But although Nunavut is now a recognized body under the EU’s Indigenous Communities Exemption, Inuit-harvested seal skin continues to fetch low prices.

In Nunavut, where the territorial government continues to purchase seal skins from hunters through its fur buying program, prices remain well below pre-ban levels.

The hope is that the exemption will gradually help generate economic growth for Inuit communities.

“The sale of seal skins will provide harvesters with an important source of income, and help to improve the economic sustainability of the seal hunt, which provides much-needed healthy food to remote Nunavut communities,” the GN news release said.

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