07/11/2011 08:51 EDT | Updated 09/10/2011 05:12 EDT

Seals Before Trade Deals: Slaughter Risks $12 Billion Trade Deal

From July 11-15, Canadian and European trade negotiators are meeting in Brussels to negotiate a multi-billion dollar free trade agreement reportedly expected to benefit the Canadian economy by $12 billion annually. But members of the European Parliament who must ratify the deal are saying that the Harper government's World Trade Organization challenge against the EU's ban on the trade in seal products is a deal-breaker. Harper must stop playing politics and do what's best for the country -- withdraw the WTO challenge and end the cruel commercial seal slaughter.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement presently under negotiation during the eighth round of talks is the most important free trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994. It will directly affect the bilateral trade relationship between Canada and our second largest trading partner -- the EU -- for decades.

But a June 11 resolution by the European Parliament said loud and clear that they want Canada to withdraw its WTO challenge against the EU seal product trade ban prior to ratification of the CETA. Why would the Harper government jeopardize such an important trade agreement for the sake of the dying Canadian commercial seal slaughter?

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gross revenues from the 2010 harp seal slaughter in Newfoundland and Labrador were approximately $1.3 million. In 2009, one sealer commented that there was more money to be made collecting pop bottles from the side of the road. In both of these years, it is estimated the Canadian government spent more than $4.3 million simply to provide Coast Guard support and legal experts estimate the cost of the WTO complaint process will be around $10 million.

Not only is the seal slaughter non-viable economically, it is also cruel and inhumane. Baby harp seals as young as three weeks old are wounded and left to suffer for prolonged periods, cut open while still alive, left to drown in their own blood or impaled on hooks and dragged across the ice while still conscious.

All of this occurs at a time when seal populations are threatened by global warming and sea ice formation off Canada's east coast has been below average for the last 15 years. This year's ice cover was the lowest on record. Harp seals are ice dependent animals and rely on sea ice to give birth and nurse their pups. In recent years the Canadian government has estimated up to 100 per cent mortality for seal pups in key birthing areas when the sea ice did not form or melted too soon.

No matter which way you look at it, the seal slaughter is cruel, costly and unsustainable. Playing local politics at the expense of the Canadian economy, our international reputation, seals and the health of our oceans is irresponsible and has to stop.

The Harper government must withdraw the WTO challenge and work with fishing communities and citizens groups to put an end to the cruel commercial seal slaughter once and for all.