OTTAWA – The federal government made a last-ditch effort Sunday to persuade European politicians to vote against a ban on Canadian seal products.
The European Council of Ministers is widely expected to vote for tight restrictions on the seal trade when it meets Monday in Belgium.
But on the eve of the vote, Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea urged the European parliamentarians to think twice about supporting the ban.
“The government of Canada is gravely concerned that the European Union is continuing to push for a ban on seal products without any consideration of an exemption for Canada’s humane and sustainable seal hunt,” they said in a statement.
“The proposal currently being considered within the EU will serve no purpose other than to damage the livelihood of coastal and northern Canadians and their families.”
In May, members of the EU Parliament endorsed a bill that would slap tight restrictions on the import of seal products to all 27-member countries.
The ban is expected to take effect in October.
European politicians were supposed to vote on the ban in September but the date was rescheduled for Monday morning.
Animal rights groups have for years aggressively lobbied European politicians to impose a ban on the Canadian hunt, the largest in the world.
They have enlisted celebrities like rock legend Paul McCartney, who with his former wife, Heather Mills, travelled to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2006 to protest the annual East Coast hunt.
The European ban still allows Canada to ship seal products through Europe, but it bars the promotion of those same products. The sealing industry says that would keep Canadian seal products off the runways of France and Italy, which set sartorial trends in the larger Russian and Chinese markets.
The restrictions would apply to all products and processed goods derived from seals, including fur, meat, oil blubber and even omega-3 pills made from seal oil.
But seal products from Inuit and aboriginal communities in Canada, Greenland and elsewhere would be exempt under the ban.
Day and Shea threatened trade action against the European Union if it goes ahead with the ban.
“Should the EU choose to adopt a seal products trade ban that does not contain an acceptable derogation for humanely harvested seal products, Canada will defend its rights and interests under the relevant World Trade Organization agreements,” they said.
Canada had set a quota of 280,000 harp seals for this year’s hunt, but only about 60,000 have been killed due to dwindling markets for seal products.
Last year, Canada exported about $5.5 million of seal products to the European Union.