Nunavut tripled seal exports to EU last year but Inuit exemption not enough, says minister

Nunavut more than tripled the amount of seal product exported to the European Union last year, but the territory's finance minister says the Inuit exemption to the EU seal ban still isn't enough.

Industry still struggles under EU seal product import ban

Inuit hunters Lew Philip, left, and Joshua Kango, walk by a ring seal they caught through the ice on Frobisher Bay near Iqaluit, Nunavut, Feb. 2, 2003. Nunavut more than tripled its seal exports to the EU last year. (Canadian Press)

Nunavut more than tripled the amount of seal product exported to the European Union last year, but Finance Minister David Akeeagok says the Nunavut Inuit exemption to the EU seal ban still isn't enough.

According to Nunavut's Fisheries and Sealing Division, it issued 115 export certificates to the EU totalling $18,076 worth of product in the 2017-18 fiscal year — a 215 per cent increase from this time last year.

Still, it's pennies on the dollar from what the market used to be.

When CBC News reported in April last year how Nunavut had exported $5,723 worth of seal products, among the 61 export certificates, half of those certificates went to a single shop in Paris.

The Parisian shop, however, wasn't a return customer.

Among the 115 certificates issued last year, 58 were destined for Sweden and the remaining 57 were bound for Estonia.

"That market is not there as a result of the [EU seal] ban," Akeeagok told CBC News, adding that the Nunavut exemption doesn't go far enough to bring the market back to its former value.

"The ban [itself] has such a weight, which is why I mentioned in the house [Nunavut Legislature] that we still support the previous house motion of not purchasing EU products into our liquor stores. 

"It is not right to dictate to some cultures to say 'what you're doing is not acceptable,'" Akeeagok said.

Seal pelt prices plummeted with the rise of anti-sealing campaigns and the EU's 2009 import ban, but designers and activists say education on sealing practices in Nunavut is the key to growing the industry.

EU alcohol ban to stay

Akeeagok faced a pair of questions on the ban in the legislature last week, particularly as it relates to Nunavut's tit-for-tat ban on EU alcohol products in government-controlled alcohol outlets — Nunavummiut can still legally import EU products, privately.

Iqaluit-Manirajak Adam Arreak Lightstone raised the issue, first asking if anything has changed since the 2010 motion on banning EU booze.

"They still have a seal products ban, and it's still in place. As long as there's a ban, we're not buying alcohol products from the European Union," Akeeagok replied.

The next day, Arreak Lightstone upped the ante saying how the alcohol ban was an "ineffective" response to the EU seal ban, suggesting a more powerful message would be to ban future EU mining companies from Nunavut.

Akeeagok sidestepped the suggestion, saying it's up to the Nunavut Legislature to make a motion to change the EU alcohol ban from 2010.

Collaborative approach needed, MLA says

Arreak Lightstone said he raised the issue in the legislature because he doesn't think a tit-for-tat ban on EU wines is the right way to go about solving the EU seal ban.

"A lot has happened since 2010 when the original motion was put through the house," Arreak Lightstone said.

"And now that we have a beer and wine store, I believe preventing the wine connoisseurs from enjoying their Bordeaux or Champagne really is having more of a negative effect on Nunavummiut than the European Union."

He said since the EU exempted Nunavut products, the territory could, likewise, show a gesture of good faith.

"I believe we need to take that into consideration and try to work collaboratively with the EU on this, and maintaining the EU ban is definitely not the right way to go about it," he said.

"For Nunavut to continue the ban on European alcohol products is not the right way of showing that we're willing to work together on the issue."

As for the possibility on banning mining companies, Arreak Lightstone said it isn't an avenue the government should explore either, and he only raised it to probe cabinet's position on the issue.

Arreak Lightstone promised to keep pressing the issue in the legislature.