Harper government defiantly proceeds with WTO seal ban challenge

Tuesday, 25 September, 2012

In a move that ignores economics and threatens international trade relations, the Harper government is moving forward with an expensive challenge of the European Union’s ban on seal products at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) is both critical and sceptical of the move and questions what politics are driving it.  

“The WTO challenge has been lingering, and despite their grandstanding the Canadian government has been mostly inactive on it for three years” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s Seal Program, “We’re wondering what politics finally spurred the Harper government into action after all this time.”

“A delegation from the European Union is currently in Ottawa on trade negotiations that the Harper government feels are extremely important, and it’s odd that the government would risk adding tensions to those negotiations in a futile attempt to curry favour in Atlantic Canada” added Fink.

The European Union ban on the trade in seal products entered into force in November 2009, with Canada and Norway beginning the WTO challenge that same month. In February 2011, Canada and Norway requested a dispute panel, however it took until now, 19 months later, for Canada and Norway to form their side of the panel. The reason why it took 19 months is unknown.

It is unclear how much longer the dispute will go on, but it is clear that it will be an expensive process paid for with tax dollars. Simon Potter, a trade lawyer at McCarthy Tétrault, put Ottawa’s price tag for the WTO challenge at $10-million. Combined with expensive trade missions, subsidies to sealing industry groups and the black eye that the commercial seal hunt gives Canada internationally, the Harper government appears to be ignoring the economics and throwing Canadians’ money out the window– the landed value of the commercial seal hunt in 2012 was only $1.6 million.

“The Harper government claims to be fiscally responsible, yet they are spending more to defend the commercial seal hunt than it can ever hope to bring in. Rather than wasting more tax dollars on an industry that is clearly failing and for which markets continue to slam shut, the government should be helping sealers to transition out of the industry and into other jobs” said Fink.

The EU has previously made it clear that it will "vigorously defend" the values of European citizens in the face of a WTO challenge. The seal trade ban was written in anticipation of a WTO challenge and is expected to comply fully with the EU’s international obligations.

“The Harper government apparently feels that the political payoff will be greater than the price and associated risks of pursuing the WTO challenge. They seem comfortable with spending the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians to get that political payoff. IFAW feels that Canadians deserve better, and that money would be better spent transitioning sealers to other activities while protecting Canada’s wildlife for the benefit of all Canadians” said Fink. 

About IFAW

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) was established in 1969 and its founding campaign was in opposition to Canada’s commercial seal hunt. IFAW has more than 40 years of experience raising awareness, documenting and opposing the cruel commercial hunts for seals in Canada and around the world.

For more information on the campaign read IFAW’s blog, visit our website and follow us on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

For further information or to schedule interviews with IFAW staff, please contact:

Michelle Cliffe, IFAW Global Communications Lead, Seals

Telephone: +1 647 986 4329

E-mail: mcliffe@ifaw.org

Twitter: @MichelleCliffe or @IFAWCanada

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Press Contact

Michelle Cliffe, IFAW Global Communications Lead, Seals
Contact mobile:
+1 647 986 4329
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations