China beats EU to Arctic Council membership
The Arctic Council at its biannual meeting on Wednesday (15 May) in Sweden allowed in six new observer states, but deferred the EU's application until a later date.
China, along with India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, are now part of a select club of countries that oversee the exploitation and conservation of a changing landscape in the polar cap.
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“It strengthens the position of the Arctic Council on the global scene,” said Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt.
The six new observers join six previous non-Arctic countries with observer status - France, Germany, the Netherlands,
Poland, Spain and the UK.
The fully fledged members with a vote on the council are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, with Canada taking over the council chairmanship from Sweden on Wednesday.
The entire region is drawing intense interest as ice packs melt, opening up new shipping routes and access to abundant supplies of oil and gas.
The Council in a signed declaration said it would aim to protect the environment and indigenous populations but also noted “the central role of business in the development of the Arctic.”
Canada’s Leona Aglukkaq, a conservative health minister, is on the Council’s chair.
She said it will focus on “creating economic development” during its two year role.
As for the new observer states, Aglukkaq said she welcomed their interests in development, shipping, and trade.
The pro-environment group WWF says the Arctic holds the world’s largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves. The group says the rush to tap the resource imperils the fragile environment and eco-system.
Meanwhile, the EU snub finds it origin in an outstanding dispute between Canada and the EU over seal fur trade, reports the BBC.
Canadian Inuit and the fur trade industry challenged the three-year ban but lost the case in April in the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a joint statement with European Commissioner of maritime affairs Maria Damanaki said the “EU will now work expeditiously with them [Canada] to address the outstanding issue of their concern.”
Aglukkaq is against the seal fur ban and has described the problem as being “huge,” reports Canada’s Globe and Mail.