Wednesday, May 6, 2009

EU ends seal hunt as Harper goes to Prague

Just as PMS goes to Prague to formally begin free trade talks with the European Union -- something which is long overdue for Canada, in my opinion -- the EU's Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban the importation of nearly all seal products and derivatives into the 27 nation area. Harper can't claim he was caught by surprise by this, this ban has been long sought and seriously considered by the EU for nearly the whole time Harper has been Prime Minister. He can say he's going to appeal to the World Trade Organization but he's said nothing about what he'll do to help seal hunters in the short term.

As usual, Canada is claiming the hunt is "humane" and not at all like the horror stories that Brigitte Bardot and Sir Paul McCartney have made famous. That is as specious reasoning as continuing to tolerate the mining and export of a "safer" type of asbestos even though we know about the link between the mineral and mesothelioma.

There are two ways to see this. On the one hand is the fact that the seals are voracious eaters, especially of the northern cod, and while commercial overfishing is mostly to blame for the collapse of the Newfoundland fishery, seals do have some share of the blame. But instinct is not necessarily a reason to hunt them. On the other hand, there is the concern that seals do provide useful products -- not so much the seal pelts, but the seal oils including Omega 3 which is known to have health benefits.

There is also the need to consider the fact seal hunting is a part of the traditional way of life for many people, including the Inuit. The proposed EU ban does provide an exception for them, but as currently drawn is so narrow that one may as well declare an end to the hunt all together.

It has been noted that seal exports only account for about $5 million of trade with Europe. This is in contrast to the well over $12 billion and tens of thousands of new jobs that could be created if Canada and the EU sign a free trade deal. I have mixed feelings about this -- while the jobs provided by the hunt are important, the trade is about as senseless as the hunt for whales. The fact is Europe is moving towards a greener and sustainable economic model, and I think Canada should be part of that.

As for the hunt, I suppose we can continue to be hypocrites as we are on asbestos and sell the products to the third world, where the ruling classes still have a demand for the stuff with no safeguards in place. This is indeed an untenable position to take, but it's worth remembering that most EU states allow corporations to deduct bribes to foreign officials as "the cost of doing business," and our position on the issue (they're not deductible) hasn't budged the Europeans one inch in any of the tax treaties we've signed with individual member states in the EU.

Frankly, I don't think seals are going to be a deal breaker. Canada needs a fairly reliable export market, and with an area with strong traditions of democracy and general respect for human rights. I think both Harper and Ignatieff see the benefits of free trade with Western and Central Europe. I'd rather sign a deal with Brussels than Bogota which is basically a drug-run economy and a human rights disaster and to think we'd give the fast track to Colombia but insist on clause-by-clause with Europe is just insanity runk amok.

It's good to be back ... sorry for the absence but I have had too many things on my mind.

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Anonymous said...

I feel that in some cases it is vey cruel and inhumane. I think the sealers should be trained for some other job. through E.I .
I really feel very sorry for the ceatures, who cannot help themselves.

Anonymous said...

Good on the EU. The seal hunt should be's disgusting and ruins Canada's image abroad.

Toronto Condos said...

Agreed, seal hunt is a thing from the past and needs to be ended. I don't see a reason to keep it. It does not contribute to our economy a bit and only few people are entirely depended on it. And I'm sure there would be a solution for them too. So lets get rid of it!

Take care, Elli