Canada inks seal export agreement with China

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea has signed an agreement that could help revive Canada's ailing sealing industry.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea has signed an agreement that could help revive Canada's ailing sealing industry.

Shea signed an agreement Wednesday in Beijing allowing all Canadian seal products to be exported to China, including edible meat and oil, to a potentially vast market of Chinese consumers. The agreement is effective immediately.

"This is very significant, because we've been working very hard to open new markets for Canadian seal products and this represents one of those markets, a very large market," said Shea.

Shea said the agreement was the fruit of negotiations that began a year ago.

"One year ago, I came to China to begin this process. The Chinese market holds great potential for the Canadian seal industry," said Shea.

"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."

Canada is the first country allowed to export seal meat to China. Korea and Japan also import small amounts of edible seal products. Shea would not put a dollar value on the agreement.

The European Union banned seal products last year, a blow to Canadian exporters who shipped about $5.5 million in seal products to the EU in 2006. Prices for seal pelts have fallen from about $105 in 2006 to roughly $21 dollars in 2010.

Shea was joined in China by Nunavut Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk and Newfoundland Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman. Among the events promoting the Canadian fish and seafood industry was a showcase for Chinese retailers, with a menu prepared by Canadian chef Trevor Scott of Beijing’s Vin Restaurant. The menu included Atlantic lobster, crab, salmon and oysters.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has condemned Shea's visit to China. The IFAW said it intends to launch an awareness campaign to inform the Chinese about what it calls "meat and oil tainted by cruelty."

An IFAW news release said Chinese consumers will decide the fate of seal products, with the group believing that consumers will ultimately reject the products, thereby making the deal irrelevant.

"The Canadian government can try and try again to dump unwanted seal products on other countries, but as the EU ban has shown, they may not succeed," said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW's Seal Program.

"Chinese consumers are more ethical and more aware of the truth about the seal hunt than the Canadian Government is giving them credit for," said Fink.