Canadian grandstanding largely ignored during WTO EU seal ban appeal

The major victory for animal welfare — that animal welfare is recognized as a legitimate public morals concern — is unlikely to change as a result of this appeal. c. IFAWDiscussions began today before the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. In Canada, much has been made of the fact than an “ecstatic” Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is leading the Canadian delegation. 

No other country involved in the appeal has a Minister at these hearings. But even if ministers were expected to attend, the responsibility should have fallen to the federal Minister of Fisheries — the department under which the seal hunt falls — or perhaps the Minister of International Trade. But sending the Minister of Environment, whose portfolio has little to do with the commercial seal hunt, was a move intended to get attention.

In her prepared opening statement Minister Aglukkaq explained that she is to follow through on the Canadian government’s commitment to appeal any findings that would allow the ban to continue. But while she repeated the government’s position that the EU ban is “unfair” and that Canada’s seal hunt is “humane, sustainable and well-regulated,” these points are not at issue here.

To a large extent, the grandstanding of the Canadian delegation (of which the rest of the world — and the Appellate Body — seems to have taken little notice) is a show put on for Canadian media. With the commercial seal hunt set to open in a few weeks, and an expected quota of 400,000 harp seals, Canada is taking the opportunity yet again to show it is “standing up” for this dying industry.

But it remains to be seen what good it will do.

WTO appeals have to be based on points of law such as legal interpretation; they cannot reexamine existing evidence or examine new issues. Thus points such as to the role of sealing in Canada’s development, or discussions of whether or not commercial sealing is humane or not, are largely irrelevant.

Most of the discussions here are expected to hinge not on the ban itself, but on the acceptability of the exceptions to the ban. Thus the major victory for animal welfare — that animal welfare is recognized as a legitimate public morals concern — is unlikely to change as a result of this appeal. 

It is also important to remember that prior to the 2009 ban, less than 5% of Canadian seal exports went to Europe. Europe hasn’t been a major market for seal products since 1983, and that isn’t likely to change.

In addition, the number of Inuit hunted sealskins going to Europe, or to any international market, is negligible. It was noted several times today that Canada has done nothing to assist Inuit sealers in accessing the EU market, to which they now have almost exclusive access thanks to the exemption in the ban for Inuit-hunted seal products. But Canada continues to finance commercial sealing operations on the east coast.

Canada will argue that the EU ban destroyed this market. But there are a number of questions raised by this claim. If the 2009 EU ban had such a ‘devastating’ impact on Inuit sealers, why – even in the years prior to the ban – did Inuit sealskins only have a value of value of $61,551 compared to $11 million from the Newfoundland hunt

Why did Inuit not profit equally to commercial sealers during the 2006 “boom” year when pelt prices soared to record highs of over $100 per skin?

Why did commercial sealers receive over $7 million in government funds in the past 2 years for various projects, while Inuit sealers got nothing?

If EU markets are so important, why are Nunavut artisans complaining they cannot get enough sealskins to make their products?

Many questions, and hopefully we will hear a few answers.

--SF

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Experts

Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Robbie Marsland, Regional Director, United Kingdom
Regional Director, United Kingdom
Sheryl Fink, Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Wildlife Campaigns Director, IFAW Canada
Sonja Van Tichelen, Regional Director, European Union
Regional Director, European Union