The Canadian province of Nunavut is countering the European Union’s trade ban on seal products with its own import ban of wines, scotches, spirits and other liquor from EU countries.
The Nunavut Liquor Commission has quietly followed through on a motion — passed in March by the territory’s MLAs — to bar liquor from EU nations from being sold in Nunavut, unless the EU lifts its ban on the trade of seal products from Canada and other sealing countries.
The liquor commission has stopped ordering European-based alcohol for its two warehouses. After those warehouses’ current stocks of European liquor run out, Nunavut’s licensed establishments will no longer be able to order those products from the commission.
“No European wines, spirits like scotch or Tanqueray No. 10 in terms of gin, or even Grey Goose vodka. None of that would be brought in this year,” Chris D’Arcy, Nunavut’s assistant deputy finance minister for policy and planning, told CBC News on Friday.
Restaurants feel shortage
The liquor commission would normally buy more than $300,000 worth of European liquor products in a given bulk order, D’Arcy said.
The effects of Nunavut’s EU liquor ban have only just started to trickle down to customers, as they learn they may no longer be able to enjoy a glass of Italian Chianti or French Bordeaux at restaurants and bars.
Restaurateurs like Maud Pelletier de Simini of the Discovery Lodge Restaurant in Iqaluit warn that after they run out of their current stock of European wines and spirits, they cannot be replaced anytime soon.
“We’ve been trying to buy European [wines] a lot until they run out, so when they do run out then maybe we’ll have a little bit,” Pelletier de Simini said.
“We know we’re not going to last for a whole year,” she added. “When we run out, that’s going to be it, and people will have to discover new tastes.”
Individual Nunavummiut can still order European liquor products from elsewhere, provided they obtain their own liquor import permits.
Violation of trade agreements
D’Arcy conceded that Nunavut’s ban of EU liquor products likely violates international trade agreements, including the World Trade Organization’s general agreement on tariffs and trade.
“Nevertheless, there is a motion from the house,” he said.
That motion was introduced by South Baffin MLA Fred Schell, who said the liquor ban is mainly meant to send a political message to the European Union.
“I realize that $300,000 or $400,000 probably is not a big deal there for European brewers … but it’s just kind of a symbol there that we’re not happy about it,” Schell said.
The Nunavut government objects to the EU seal product ban, which was introduced in part because anti-sealing campaigns accused Canada of conducting an inhumane seal hunt. It was adopted by 27 EU nations last year.
Inuit in Nunavut have long relied on traditional seal hunting for food, as well as for the trade of seal pelts and traditional seal-based products. Inuit sealers maintain that their hunts are conducted humanely.
EU seal ban ‘a silly thing’: MLA
The EU’s ban has a limited exemption for seal products derived from traditional Inuit hunts, but Inuit sealers and leaders have said such exemptions are not clear and the overall ban has still affected the Inuit seal hunt.
Schell said if it seems wrong to ban European liquor from being sold in Nunavut, it’s even more absurd for the EU to ban seal products from Canada.
“Hopefully they’ll realize that this is kind of a silly thing that they’re doing, because as we all know the seal population in the East Coast is increasing every year,” he said.
Last month, the EU’s General Court temporarily suspended the EU seal ban while a legal challenge filed by Inuit groups in Canada and Greenland is being addressed.
“If they do squash the seal ban then, of course, we’re more than willing to squash the motion,” Schell said.
But if the EU holds firm on its seal product ban, it is possible that Nunavut’s restaurants may never serve European wines or spirits again.