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Editor’s Briefing

Arctic Economic Council

Promoting development in the North is proving to be more difficult to agree on than you would think
The AEC’s goal is clear, even if the details are a little fuzzy (Photo: Leona Aglukkaq)

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The Arctic is increasingly being eyed as the next frontier for development, particularly in the areas of resource extraction and living resources. Few would disagree that the region has the potential for growth, but how to go about doing that remains a matter of debate.

One of the biggest sources of discussion is what influence outside firms should play.

Much like the Arctic Council it is spun off from, the Arctic Economic Council, founded last week in Iqaluit, has taken the view that the direction of Arctic development should be determined, first and foremost, by the countries and peoples of the region.

The AEC, established at the behest of the Canadian government, which currently chairs the Arctic Council, limited membership to representatives from 21 business interests and six indigenous groups, all from Arctic countries.

The council will now be allowed to set its own rules, and more members may be allowed to join, but they will all be required to come from Arctic states.

Originally conceived of as a business forum, the AEC will instead have a more formal structure, but its main goal will still be to help companies in the region do business with each other.

“The Arctic Council is working to ensure that Arctic development takes place responsibly. Businesses in the Arctic will play a strong role in building a sustainable and economically vibrant future for the region. The Arctic Economic Council fosters circumpolar economic development and provides opportunities for business to engage with the Arctic Council,” the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development writes on its website.

Detractors say that while that Arctic-only approach suits the political reality, there are two arguments for why businesses from outside the North should be included in some way: firstly, the Arctic Council does include the participation of non-Arctic states as observers, and secondly, allowing the participation of businesses from outside the North will foster the development of international best practices in the region.

Environmental groups are also worried. Already at odds with the Canadian federal government over mining and seismic testing in Baffin Bay, groups such as Greenpeace see the appointment of Tom Paddon, the managing director of Baffinland, a mining firm, as proof of the AEC’s bias towards promoting growth by removing things from the ground.

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