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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Halts Meetings With Canadians

BRUSSELS -- The European Union, angry over the seizure of a Spanish trawler by Canada, on Monday decided to suspend high-level meetings with Canadian officials, diplomats said.


They said the decision to freeze relations was taken at an emergency meeting of the ambassadors of the 15 EU nations.


A first casualty of the EU decision was a meeting, scheduled for Tuesday in Paris, of EU and Canadian officials as part of the regular political dialogue between the two sides. The meeting was scheduled for Paris as France currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.


There was no immediate word as to whether the EU would boycott the June summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Halifax, Canada.


Spain also took measures against Canada on Monday, announcing that it would take a complaint over the seizure of the trawler to the World Court and ban official visits between the two countries.


Foreign Minister Javier Solana said: "This morning we started proceedings to put the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague."


"We will stop all official visits between Spain and Canada," he said.


At the emergency meeting Monday, the 15 EU ambassadors considered a series of retaliatory measures presented by the EU's executive Commission, officials said. Solana said that Spain hoped the EU would back Spain's bilateral measures by imposing collective trade sanctions on Canada.


Senior EU diplomats agreed Sunday night that the Union would not negotiate with Canada to end the standoff over fish catch quotas unless the captured trawler and its crew were released.


The high transatlantic tensions center on Canada's attempt to stop Spanish and Portuguese boats fishing for diminishing stocks of turbot in international waters.


The Spanish fishing trawler Estai, seized by Canada, was escorted to the Canadian port St. John's, Newfoundland and its captain, Enrique Davila Gonzalez of Vigo, Spain, was released on $8,000 bail Sunday.


EU fisheries chief Emma Bonino had demanded over the weekend that the Canadians must "immediately free'' the trawler Estai "before any contacts between the two parties.'' Bonino repeated the EU's threat of sanctions against Canada in retaliation for what she called "an act of organized piracy.''


Solana said that Spain was engaged in a rapid round of diplomacy and would keep up the pressure on Canada to free the Estai.


"The government has the full range of diplomatic measures at its disposal. I don't want to be any more specific," he said.


"We sill keep up the pressure on all sides to try to solve this problem, which I insist is a European one," he added.


The Canadians claim overfishing by Spanish and Portuguese vessels is threatening turbot stocks in the northwest Atlantic.


The EU argues Canada is breaking international law by interfering with fleets outside its territorial waters.


Accusing the Canadians of launching a "disinformation'' campaign, Bonino said the EU was opposed to overfishing and accepted an international limit of 27,000 tons on the overall catch of turbot in the area this year.


What the EU disputed, she said, was its share of that total.


Canada last year passed a law allowing it to seize ships in international waters if it believes they are overfishing. Canadian officials argue they had to protect fish that migrate between international and Canadian waters.


(AP, Reuters)