Prague: The European Union and Canada were expected to sign a deal Wednesday that would open their aviation markets to each other and begin free trade negotiations, despite strains over a new EU ban on seal products.
The aviation deal is the EU’s most far-reaching and open aviation pact with a trade partner and is meant to spur trans-Atlantic trade and competition. Under the deal, airlines based in the 27-nation bloc will be able to fly directly to Canada, and Canadian carriers would have similar access rights to points in Europe.
On the eve of Wednesday’s summit between the two key economic partners, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban imports of seal products in an effort to force Canada to end its annual seal hunt.
The Canadian government reacted sharply to the action. Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Ottawa will challenge the ban at the World Trade Organization if the new law does not exempt Canada. Day was due in Prague with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Despite the opposition to Tuesday’s vote, Day said Canada would not let it get in the way of a broader free trade agreement with the EU that could be completed by 2011. Canada is a key economic partner for Europe. Annual mutual trade reaches about €70 billion ($94 billion).
But the European Parliament voted to endorse a bill that said commercial seal hunting, notably in Canada, is “inherently inhumane.”
The EU ban, expected to take effect in October, will apply to all products and processed goods derived from seals, including their skins — which are used to make fur coats, bags and adorn clothing — as well as meat, oil blubber, organs and seal oil, which is used in some omega-3 pills.
Canada’s East Coast seal hunt is the largest in the world, killing an average of 300,000 harp seals annually. One-third of the world’s trade in seal products passes through EU countries. Last year, Canada exported seal products — pelts, meat and oils — worth around €3.5 million ($4.7 million) to the EU.
In the aviation deal, restrictions on routes, prices and the number of flights between the two sides will be removed and limits on investment and foreign ownership in airlines would also be phased out, which eventually could lead to European investors setting up airline operations in Canada.