Thursday, April 30, 2009

Arctic Council Postpones EU's Application for Observer Status

On Wednesday of this week, the Arctic Council postponed consideration of the application of the European Union (EU) for permanent observer status due to a tiff over an EU ban on seal products. Canada advocated for the postponement because it believes hunting seals can be done in a sustainable and humane way and that the ban is unnecessary.  Observer status was also denied to China, Italy and South Korea.

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum created in 1996 to promote cooperation and coordination between the states in the Arctic.  It currently has eight member states: Canada, Demark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden. and the United States  Six indigenous groups sit as permanent observers.

The next full ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council is not until 2011.  However, because of increased interest and activity in the Arctic, the parties have agreed to start meeting at a political level once a year.  Therefore, it is not clear when the EU may renew its application.

Separately, the Council agreed to begin negotiations on an international agreement on Arctic searches and rescues, in recognition that increased activity in the area will likely lead to a need for more search and rescue operations.  The Council also urged the International Maritime Organization to adopt updated guidelines for ships operating in Arctic waters, and to support the development of binding rules on safety and the environment for the Arctic.


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