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China Seal Deal Could Help Inuit Economy

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The European Union may have quashed Canadian seal-products sales, but China is stepping in. Inuit representatives were applauding the deal between the two countries, which went into effect Jan. 13, even as animal-rights groups objected and predicted that the Asian nation would not bite.

“Inuit are always looking for new markets for our products. I applaud Minister Shea for signing the agreement and boosting Canada’s seal trade, and enabling Inuit to participate in a healthy traditional economy,” said Cathy Towtongie, president of the Inuit land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), in a statement after the Jan. 12 announcement by federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea. “NTI fully supports the proposed agreement.”

Towtongie added that NTI hoped the commerce would replace some of the income lost in the wake of the European Union’s 2010 seal-products ban, which Canada is appealing before the World Trade Organization. Canada already sells furs; the new agreement covers edible products like seal meat and oil, the latter used in fish-oil capsules sold in health-food stores. It took negotiators a year to hammer out the pact.

“One year ago, I came to China to begin this process. The Chinese market holds great potential for the Canadian seal industry,” said Shea in a statement. “One year later I am thrilled to demonstrate our government’s continued support of the thousands of Canadian families in coastal and northern communities who will directly benefit from this new market access arrangement with China.”

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Canada has said the European Union ban affects about C$5.4 million (US$5.5 million) worth of business, according to Reuters.

For now the agreement signed Jan. 13 is exclusive, meaning that Canada is the only seller of seal products to China. China already buys more than C$300 million of Canada’s seafood exports annually, the Fisheries ministry said in its release.

Canada already sells non-edible seal products to China, according to the Fur Institute of Canada, so this just expands an existing market. Since the agreement takes effect immediately, the new opportunities will start with this year’s seal hunt, which occurs in March and April.

Animal-rights activists predicted otherwise. The International Fund for Animal Welfare “believes that Chinese consumers, like those in the European Union, will not condone the horrific slaughter of seal pups and will reject meat and oil that is ‘tainted’ by cruelty,” the group said in a statement.