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Europeans not buying products from Canada's annual seal hunt? Canada tries to sell to China, instead

January 13, 2010 |  3:42 pm

A baby harp seal emerges from ice during a hunt in Newfoundland.

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Canada's fisheries minister courted Chinese officials in a bid to secure new markets for the country's controversial seal industry as other nations shut their doors on the maligned products.

Gail Shea and several Canadian sealing companies paraded a collection of sealskin fashions, seal oils and medical uses for seal organs at the International Leather and Fur Show in Beijing on Tuesday.

Shea said she's trying to develop markets for new seal products like meat, organs and oils after the European Union nations gave their final approval in July to a ban on imports of seal products.

"The EU was a small market for Canada. Of course, we're disappointed in their actions," Shea told reporters by phone from China.

"There are many other markets out there. That's what we're doing in China -- we're trying to expand on the market that's here."

Animal rights groups have long protested seal hunting, calling it inhumane. Seal hunters and Canadian authorities say it is sustainable, humane and provides income for isolated communities.

Canada is hoping to capitalize on China's appetite for seafood, fish oils and organs, and boost an already large market for finished seal products. It wants to expand what amounts to a small amount of trade in some seal products.

Alain Belle-Isle, a Fisheries spokesman, said Canada exported $1.1 million Canadian ($1.1 million in U.S. dollars) in seal fats and oil to China last year, while an unknown percentage of the $4-million Canadian ($3.8 million in U.S. dollars) in pelts went to the country after being manufactured into boots and other clothing.

China has yet to certify Canadian seal meat for human consumption after years of efforts.

Shea said she met with Chinese officials to discuss criteria for meat certification, but that it's not clear when or if it will be approved.

South Korea is one of few countries that imports Canadian seal meat for human consumption.

Shea said she hadn't encountered any resistance to the products from animal rights activists in Beijing.

Canada has requested consultations with the EU at the World Trade Organization, which is the first step before launching an official trade challenge to salvage a Canadian industry valued at $10 million Canadian ($9.6 million in U.S. dollars) in exports last year.

-- Associated Press

Photo: A young harp seal emerges from ice during a seal hunt in Newfoundland in 1998. Credit: M. Walsh / Times Standard

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