Canada-China History of Seal Trade Deals: A Bundle of Empty Promises
When Canada’s Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced last week that the restrictions on exporting seal meat to China had been lifted, and that ”thousands of Canadian families...will directly benefit from this new market access arrangement with China”, politicians and industry spokespeople applauded the development loudly.
Then it occurred to me. This all sounded awfully familiar. So I dug around in IFAW’s files; drawers full of faxes from the pre-internet age. But even I was surprised to discover that Canadian politicians have been raising the prospect of this miraculous Chinese market, the silver bullet, the miracle cure that will save the dying sealing industy, for almost TWO DECADES.
Let’s take a look at the record on the supposed ”seals deals” between Canada and China:
1993: Media reports that representatives of a Chinese syndicate are in Labrador looking to buy up to 60,000 seals for their penis and gall bladder. Article states that Inuit opposed the deal, saying it was wasteful and would not feel right killing a seal solely for its penis.
1993: A pilot scheme established between Terra Nova Fisheries, Newfoundland, and Shanghai Fisheries, China, to explore trade in sea oil and pelts products in Asia.
1994: Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells, following a visit to China, claims that Terra Nova Fishery Company of St John’s, Newfoundland, is poised to sign a deal to export 50,000 seals to Shanghai Fisheries General Corporation.
1995: Media reports that North American Enviromental Technologies Inc. (NAET), an Ontario company, will be given the go-ahead to build a factory to process up to 250,000 seals for the Asian market.
1996: Terra Nova Fisheries and Seafreeze announced a new joint venture and began to ship 30,000 lbs of meat a month to China. Newspaper transcripts described how one million pounds of seal meat were left rotting on the dock in China due to lack of meat certification. Chinese authorities express concern over the absence of pre mortem inspections for diseases as required for other livestock.
1996: Newfoundland Fisheries Minister, John Efford, says Newfoundland must start focusing on the growing demand for seal meat, particularly in China, and claimed that the demand for seal products in China was “skyrocketing”. Provincial staff reportedly met with Chinese officials, who reportedly placed an order for 900-thousand kilograms of seal meat.
1996: Newfoundland Fisheries Minister John Efford claims to have an order for 2 million pounds of seal meat to be shipped to China in January 1997, from a Mr Lee of the Charleston fish plant.
1998: A tentative deal is made to export 24,000 seals per year to China. In 1999, the Chinese withdraw for unknown reasons and the deal falls apart.
1999: Minister John Efford raved enthusiastically that he is ”excited about markets opening in China…''
2000: John Efford claimed to have orders for 150,000 flippers and 300 tons of dried seal meat from China.
2001: Trade mission to China is conducted to explore Chinese demand for seal oil and other seal products.
2003: Media reported that Iceland receives a licence to export seal meat to China, (contradicting claims in 2011 that Canada is the ”first country in the world to export seal meat to China”).
2003: Canadian harp seal meat and deli products make their debut at the Canadian Gourmet Festival, held in Guangzhou, China.
2003: Chinese media reported that a shipment of 375 kg of frozen seal meat from Canada contained high levels of mercury and did not meet Chinese food standards. The meat was destroyed.
2010: Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, visited China to promote seal products.
2011: Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, announces deal with China to allow the import of edible seal products, but at the same time cautions that ”the [sealing] industry will now have to do their work to find those markets within China so we expect [markets] will grow slowly."
So first of all, let’s keep in mind that there is no ”trade deal.” China has not yet agreed to buy Canada’s unwanted seal meat, and there seem to be no indications that they will want it any time soon. At the end of the day, all this talk about China seems likely to be nothing more than empty promises, designed to win votes in Atlantic Canada in the runup to a federal election.
And as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one thinking I’d heard this all before. One sealer interviewed last week on CBC’s Fishery Broadcast said his thoughts were "Oh! We have a new market found in China And save Newfoundland. I guess. Again.”
Unlike the politicians and fur industry representatives, this sealer admitted frankly that he wasn’t very optimsitic, saying “I think this is just a game of politics.”
It’s not often that IFAW and seal hunters agree, but this time I couldn’t have said it better myself.
For more information on IFAW efforts to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt, visit http://www.ifaw.org/seals