EU seal products trade rules must respect Inuit culture

It's important for seal product trade rules to respect the rights of indigenous communities, writes Cristian-Silviu Buşoi.

13 Jul 2015

While the EU has been imposing a 'total' ban on the trade of seal products since 2009, this embargo was introduced with two major exceptions.

The first was for products from hunts conducted by Inuit or other indigenous communities - the-so-called IC exception. 

The second concerned products from hunts conducted for the sole purpose of the sustainable management of marine resources on a small-scale and non-profit basis - the so-called MRM exception.


A few months ago, the European commission submitted a new proposal amending the EU seal regime, in order to align the current legislation with world trade organisation (WTO) rulings and recommendations established last July. 

I am very pleased that the agreement reached aligns the two sets of rules, by renouncing the MRM exception and maintaining a reinforced IC exception. 

However, while I agree with the scrapping of the MRM exception, I can appreciate that not all MEPs and member states feel the same way.

The IC exception - the consolidated text - will encompass a new set of criteria, under which seal products that come from hunts conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities can be placed on the market. 

This is clearly linked to the needs of such communities to provide food and income, and support a sustainable livelihood. The reference to 'providing food or income to support life or livelihood' was also acknowledged in the WTO panel report.

I amended the commission's proposal, in particular taking into account the Inuit and other indigenous communities' right to self-determination. 

I did so in a manner that reiterates that seal hunting is an integral part of the culture and identity of these communities, and largely contributes to their subsistence, providing food and income to support their families, preserving and perpetuating their traditional existence and the cultural heritage of bartering.

An article in my report refers to the need for citizens to be properly informed as to whether seal products placed on the EU market that originate from Inuit and other indigenous communities' hunts are of legal origin. 

During the trialogue, parliament fought for this article and eventually reached an agreement with the council and commission, which also aims to reduce the discrimination and stigmatisation of the Inuit community. It will also help counter the widespread negative portrayals and misunderstandings relating to these seal hunts.

An article on the impact assessment says that the commission will have to report on the implementation of the new rules by 2019, with a particular focus on their impact on the Inuit community. 

The reporting process was not transparent enough and did not meet the criteria that had been established - this needed to be stressed and the wording needed to be strengthened.

The negotiations concluded at the end of the first trialogue, and the permanent representatives committee has confirmed, on behalf of the council, that an agreement has been reached.

We had a short timeframe within which to work, and without the support received and the good cooperation, we couldn't have struck a deal and meet the deadlines. 

Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee will be voting on the agreement this month, and it will be submitted to plenary in September.



Agriculture & Food
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