Animal Welfare Not a Trade Barrier says WTO in EU Seal Case

Monday, 25 November, 2013
Brussels, Belgium

Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) released its panel ruling on Canada and Norway’s challenge of the European Union’s ban on seal products. The WTO panel has found the EU seal trade regulation, which prevents commercially hunted seal products from being sold in the EU, to be WTO compliant. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who spent years advocating for the EU seal trade regulation, is pleased with the ruling.

“The report from WTO panel is a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans,“ said Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW EU Regional Director. “EU leaders can be proud that they have simultaneously protected seals, represented the needs of their citizens and respected EU obligations under the WTO – that is not a simple task.”

The WTO panel has found, in principle, that the main portion of the EU ban is compatible with WTO law and 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.

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

It is estimated that over 1,000,000 seals have escaped a cruel and unnecessary death since the EU regulation was adopted by the European Parliament in the spring of 2009.

“IFAW has worked hard to achieve and defend the ban, and will continue to do so” said Van Tichelen, “We believe the commercial seal hunt is on its last legs and call on the Canadian government to spend their time and resources helping commercial sealers transition to the 21st century rather than fighting the democratic will of European citizens to say ‘No’ to unnecessary cruelty.”

The EU seal regulation had two small exceptions which did fall afoul of the WTO panel. One exception allowed seal products from Inuit and indigenous hunts to be sold in the EU. The other exception, called the Marine Resource Management exception, allowed fisherman to protect fish stocks by killing seals and selling the seal products to offset the cost of any culling. It is unclear how these two exceptions will be adjusted in order to comply with WTO rules.

Post a comment

Press Contact

Adrian Hiel
Contact phone:
+32 2 282 06 93
Contact mobile:
+32 (0)473 86 34 61
Contact email:
Michelle Cliffe
Contact mobile:
+1 (647) 986 43 26
Contact email:


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