Senior officials with the Arctic Council have signed off on the creation of a new circumpolar economic agency, aimed at facilitating regional economic growth in the North.
Arctic Council member states moved forward with the establishment of the Arctic Economic Council during their meetings in Yellowknife at the end of March, the second gathering to take place since Canada assumed its two-year chairmanship.
The initiative, put forth by Canada in its first moments as chair, was first approved in Kiruna last May and an international task force was set up to develop a circumpolar business forum with representation from all eight Arctic Council member states. Over the past seven months, that focus has shifted to creating a permanent council.
The first meeting of the economic council, expected to report directly to the Arctic Council, will be coordinated by Arctic Council chair Leona Aglukkaq.
Both Aglukkaq and the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development declined requests for comment, stating that details would be released “in due course.”
According to a briefing note distributed at the Arctic Council meetings, which were closed to the public and media, the overall aim of the permanent economic council is to foster “sustainable development, including economic growth, environmental protection and social development in the Arctic region.”
The note states that the group will strengthen the Arctic Council by enhancing regional economic cooperation, facilitate business opportunities, trade and investment in the Arctic, and maximize the potential for economic activities to positively impact Northern communities while protecting the environment.
The economic council may put forward proposals and reports to the Arctic Council, and the Arctic Council may propose areas of focus for the economic council to consider.
Each Arctic member state and the six indigenous permanent participants of the Arctic Council have two months to nominate three representatives to attend the economic council’s first meeting, though future meetings will allow industry to participate.
“In the future, the membership of the AEC will not be limited to such nominations and may accept self-nominations from the Arctic business community,” the note states.
The maximum size of the group, governance, structure and activities are yet to be determined. A date for its first meeting has yet to be announced.
“It is supposed to be completely independent, so it’s not going to be funded through the Arctic Council,” Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington, who attended the two days of meetings in Yellowknife, told The Journal. “It’s going to be self-appointed, however that’s supposed to work, and funded by the participants, I take it.”
Bevington said the creation of the economic council is a concern for him because it has the potential to overshadow the environmental backbone of the organization.
“Economics quite obviously is larger than simply business, so even on that particular subject, business can’t be the only one inputting into the economics. They can have a say in it, but what we need to do is get through all the issues that we’re dealing with at the Arctic Council right now, which are linked to environmental issues,” he said.
“Yes, there’s going to be economic activity, but we can’t let the economic activity get ahead of the environmental activity. The environmental activity has been the main focus, the priority item, and we don’t want to see it switched to having the economics be the priority item. That is a switch that will put a lot at risk.”