Blogs & Comment

Could seal hunt hurt EU-Canada free trade talk?

World economies are falling apart, people are losing jobs left and right, portfolios are crashing hard, so obviously the main topic of discussion at the Canada-EU summit in Prague today will be about… seals?
That’s right, those cute, fuzzy little guys and the East Coast Canadians who hunt them not only have Bono and Paul McCartney up in arms, but the entire European Union as well. Yesterday, the European parliament voted to banimports of seal products, which will have consequences for Canada if no exemption is made.
In terms of importance on a long list of issues the EU and Canada will likely discuss at the summit, the seal hunt ranks pretty low. However, with intense international pressure on the Union to take a strong stance against the hunt, conversations on other, more valuable economic topics could be at risk.
In 1995 another scuffle between the EU and Canada occurred, which did derail economic talks between the parties. Spain had been fishing off the coast of Newfoundland a no-no according to Canada which forced the navy to fire at a Spanish trawler and that, understandably, caused a major rift in EU Canada relations.
Instead of working it out, or letting the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization(NAFO) deal with things, the European parliament the same body that voted for the seal ban forced the conclusion of the Canada-EU Joint Action Plan (a similar meeting to what’s happening now) to be delayed by one year.
It’s unlikely the EU or Canada will take such drastic measures this time around, considering the current economic climate. David Long, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University, who I spoke to earlier this morning, lays out a few reasons why today’s talks will go on as planned.
“There is an established method for solving or adjudicating this issue the World Trade Organization which is much more effective and legitimate than NAFO,” he says. ” And, although Harper would like to avoid another dispute with Danny Williams, he hardly has much to lose in Newfoundland. By comparison, in 1995, the lead spokesman was Brian Tobin, and the Liberal governments federally and in Newfoundland had more to lose, or gain, politically on the issue.”
Long adds that the trade issues the EU and Canada are discussing at this year’s summit are arguably more important than 1995’s Joint Action agreement and, on the seal hunting matter, Canada’s bound to lose the PR battle, so it’s unlikely they’ll put up much of a fight.
Still, Long says, “I can’t be completely sure that I am right on this one.”
So far so good though. Earlier today Canada signed a pact with the EU to further open Canada’s skies, allowing more cross-border air travel. (Does that mean more Europeans will come to Newfoundland to protest the seal hunt?)
I’ll keep you posted on what else comes out of the summit, but Long says a new agreement on free trade is still years away, so don’t expect any earth shattering announcements.