European Commission holds meeting to discuss Inuit exception to seal product ban

“This is probably the most productive meeting we’ve had”

The European Commission met with representatives of Greenland, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut last month in Brussels to discuss the seal trade. (Photo by François Genon on Unsplash)

By Dustin Patar

Representatives of Greenland, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut descended upon Brussels last month for a meeting with the European Commission to discuss the future of the “Inuit and other Indigenous communities” exception to the seal product ban.

The meeting comes less than a month after the EC published a report that found the exception ineffective.

“Most people have been on the file since the inception and they said this is probably the most productive meeting we’ve had,” said Zoya Martin, the new director of Nunavut’s fisheries and sealing division.

Although it was her first meeting with the EC in this capacity, she agrees with the assessment of her international colleagues.

For Martin, it seemed like the EC understood that they need to right this wrong.

Originally hailed as a measure that would help rectify some of the issues caused by the ban, the amendment tasked recognized bodies with the responsibility to create and implement a certification system that would allow Indigenous seal products into the European Union market.

Despite creating certification systems, that’s not what has happened.

Under the exception, Nunavut exported a total of 171 ringed seal products to the EU market between Oct. 2015 and Dec. 2018.

The Northwest Territories exported none.

Last month’s report concluded by stating that the EC would organize a special meeting with the stakeholders, to further discuss the trade of seal products.

As promised, the three territories convened in Brussels on Jan. 21 for a two and a half-hour session in which each was allowed to present to the EC for 45 minutes.

“We all agreed that in general, the report was not comprehensive. It didn’t really cover questions about the intention behind the exception,” said Martin.

“Has the exception opened up markets or at least educated people so that we can open up markets? Has the exception alleviated the burden and the impact of the 2009 regulation?”

To address these concerns, the delegates from Greenland, N.W.T. and Nunavut put forward three recommendations to the commission:

  1. Create a working group with the recognized bodies and the EU member states, regarding the exception.
  2. Work with the recognized bodies to create a more comprehensive report that is needed for the EU to make an informed decision regarding the Inuit and other Indigenous communities exception.
  3. Develop a large fund towards which Inuit and other Indigenous communities who felt the impacts of the seal ban could apply for money to redevelop skills and cultural activities.

The EC declined all three of the requests.

Despite this, the mood in the room was optimistic.

“They acknowledged the fact that there is a problem,” said Martin.

“They’re looking into avenues, according to their regulatory policies and legislation, where we, as recognized bodies, could access the EU to provide information to highlight issues.”

Until this point, that feedback process consisted of a one-page questionnaire the stakeholders would submit to the EC every four years, which was then incorporated into the report released last month.

“All communication, from my understanding, is really EU-driven. So when they wanted to talk to a recognized body, when they had a question or when they needed something done they would initiate the conversation,” Martin said.

“Thankfully I think it was heard by the EU that we need some more open dialogue.”

Martin also acknowledged that these conversations will also occur at home with the hunters and crafters.

“So if people want to watch their social media over the next six months perhaps there will be some larger meetings where we can really talk to Nunavummiut about what they would like to see done with their sealing industry.”

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Optimistic, really? on

    The actual comments from members of the council seem pretty bleak to me.

    They rejected all recommendations outright, and gave a wishy washy statement in response. EU driven policies created this problem here, and EU driven policies won’t try to solve problems here.

    • Posted by Good to hear on

      I’m glad they rejected the recommendations, they were unrealistic and perpetuated an economic fable that compensation is a legitimate response to shifts in economic systems and / or preferences.

    • Posted by David on

      Honest question…… what are you expecting?

    • Posted by Fraser T. O. Hope on

      During the same time period, Greenland exported 52,341 seal products … over 300times the Nunavut and NWT exports.
      Begs the question “What was Greenland doing correctly and what was Nunavut and NWT missing in their attempts to export to the EU and Norway?”
      Maybe we should look closer to home for our lack of success because obviously the EU regulations have not hindered Greenland exporters.


  2. Posted by David on

    Under the exception, Nunavut exported a total of 171 ringed seal products to the EU market between Oct. 2015 and Dec. 2018.

    The Northwest Territories exported none.
    Why is Greenland not here? Aren’t their sales much higher?

    • Posted by Fraser Hope on

      During the same time period, Greenland exported 52,341 seal products … 306 times the output of Nunavut!

      The tremendous disparity between Greenlands exports and Nunavut and NWT begs the question “How does Greenland successfully export to the EU and Norway but Nunavut and NWT?”
      The Governments of Nunavut and NWT do not seem to have the infrastructure to allow easy export to the EU.

      Maybe we have to look closer to home to find the solutions.


  3. Posted by Thinker on

    Greenland is successful because the country that owns them Demark supports them.
    Here in Canada we have our own fellow Canadians not supporting us.
    In Nunavut we have a majority Inuit as MLAs but are reluctant to start governing in a way we once drempt. Geees some of our MLAs are hunters.
    Then there is the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Why not get the ringed seal off the list of protected species when they have been overly protected since 1972? Then for sure the Inuit economic growth would come from our renewable resources.

    • Posted by David on

      Hang on!!
      Greenland is a member of the EU. So the EU, is supporting another EU member, before they support Nunavut. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone…. it sure seems to be a surprise to a lot of people.

      • Posted by Pansy Brice ( Ottawa ) on

        I agree with you David, the E U will always side with other E U
        countries. No great surprise there !
        I see a great potential for the manufacture & retail of good
        sealskin products in Nunavut.
        Why should we expect other countries to get involved with
        our sealskins, when we do not utilize them ourselves.
        TA TA.

    • Posted by Where are you at ? on

      As an Inuit person I am very curios what is the matter with
      you ? ?
      The Canadian taxpayer funds Nunavut with 3 billion dollars a
      year, and you say Canada is not supporting you ?
      Failure in sealskins and language and culture.
      Quit blaming the world for your own self inflicted troubles !

  4. Posted by Tulugaq on

    It is important to remember that the EU is a group that is composed of almost all former colonial countries and often act as a colonial power. Do not expect that this is going to change anytime soon, particularly when the Canadian government also acts as a colonial power with respect to Indigenous people.

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