WTO Releases Ruling on EU seal products ban

Monday, 25 November, 2013
OTTAWA, Canada

Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) released its final ruling on Canada and Norway’s challenge of the European Union’s ban on seal products. The WTO panel has found the main element of the ban to be WTO compliant. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who advocated in support of the ban, is pleased with the ruling.

“This decision is welcomed, and it is significant in that the World Trade Organization is recognizing animal welfare as a public morals concern that can be legitimately protected through measures such as trade bans.” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s Seal Campaign.

The WTO panel has found, in principle, that the EU ban is compatible with WTO law and that the EU can ban the trade in seal products on the basis of public moral concerns over animal welfare. The panel also recognises that seal hunting inherently leads to poor animal welfare outcomes because of the circumstances and difficulties of the hunt.

The panel also found that the two exceptions to the regulations – the exception for the products of Inuit hunts and the Marine Resource Management exception – led to a violation of non-discrimination principles. It is not clear at this time how the exceptions will be addressed by the EU in order to comply with WTO rules.

A total of 34 countries now ban the trade in seal products, including the 28 countries of the EU, Russia, the US.  IFAW expects that this number will continue to grow, particularly in light of the WTO ruling.

“The WTO ruling should send a strong message to the Canadian government and sealing industry. Concerns over the way seals are killed in commercial hunts are found to be justified, and countries may protect their consumers from these concerns by regulating trade in seal products.” said Fink.

Although the EU itself was a small market for seal products (less than 5% of Canada’s exports), global demand for seal products has declined sharply in the wake of the EU ban, with other countries such as the Russian Federation subsequently implementing  their own bans.

The sealing industry in Canada continues struggle, heavily reliant on government support.  The remaining seal processing plant in Newfoundland – owned by a Norwegian company, has received government loans of 3.6 million in each of the past 2 years.  New reports emerged last week that Canadian sealers admit to dumping some 6000 seal pelts overboard.

“IFAW has worked hard to achieve and defend this ban, and we will continue to do so” said Fink, “While we expect Canada to appeal the ruling, it will likely prove a futile waste of Canadians’ tax dollars.  After 30 years of government support and subsidies, is seems clear that the commercial killing of seals for international trade in their skins, oil, or meat is an obsolete industry with little economic future. Like commercial whaling, it is time for commercial sealing to come to an end.”

IFAW Key Facts

• All of the Panel Reports findings are subject to appeal by Canada, Norway or the European Union and the parties have 60 days to file an appeal (appeals will likely be made in January 2014). The appeals process takes 90 days.

• Russia, and not the EU, represented the largest market for Canadian seal products – reportedly 90% of the market. In 2011, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation banned the import and export of fur skins of harp seals and their whitecoat pups, a ban which went unchallenged and remains in place today. IFAW Press release

• There are 33 countries which now ban the trade in seal products, most notably the 27 Member States of the EU, Russia Kazakhstan Belarus, Croatia, Mexico, and the USA (Canada’s closest trading partner). An agreement between Canada and China to allow edible seal products to be exported to China has not been ratified, and there are reports of China considering banning seal products as well.

• The commercial seal hunt requires support from federal and provincial governments in order to stay afloat. In the last two years, the government of Newfoundland & Labrador loaned Carino Ltd, the sole seal skin processor, more than $7 million in taxpayer money to stockpile seal skins.

• The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recently announced an additional $39,000 in funding to support marketing of seal products in China. Government press release

• Sealers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence admit to dumping seal pelts and blubber overboard – some 6,000 skins wasted in the past 3 years – due to the lack of markets. Story via Le Soleil

• The landed value of Canada’s 2013 commercial seal hunt was about $2.9 million and 844 sealers participated in the hunt.

• Seals are commercially hunted primarily for their skins and flippers, and the rest of the animal is discarded into the ocean. Other than skins, and a small amount of flippers and fat, there was no meat reported landed at the 2013 commercial seal hunt.

Timeline of the EU Ban & WTO Challenge

• 1983 Europe bans importation of whitecoat harp seal and blueback hooded seal products.

• 2009 EU bans the import of all seal products, with an exemption for Inuit.

• August 20, 2010 EU ban comes into force and applies to seal products that are produced in the EU and to imported products, with an exemption for products from seals hunted by Inuit and aboriginal peoples.

• February 18, 2012, Canada and Norway challenged the European Union’s seal products trade ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

• November 25, 2013 WTO panel releases ruling on Canada and Norway’s challenge

• January 2014 parties must indicate whether they intend to appeal the WTO panel ruling

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