At the World Trade Organization, a second round for seals

The EU population does care strongly about the welfare of seals and would regard a trade ban as an adequate response to serious seal welfare concerns. Image: c. IFAWThe second round of hearings at the World Trade Organization (WTO) get underway next week in Geneva.

The European Commission has already presented its second submission to the WTO panel in advance of the meetings. You can read it here.

The 127-page document is a convincing rebuttal of the criticism from Canada and Norway during the first hearing.

In different sections the document covers various factual matters concerning the scientific evidence, the public moral objectives pursued by the EU Seal Regime and other specific issues.

Related to the scientific evidence, Canada has done its utmost once again to discredit the involvement of NGOs in providing evidence on the cruelty of the commercial hunt in Canada.

This is not surprising given the ongoing controversy around the muzzling of Canadian government scientists.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s involvement for the protection of seals dates back more than 40 years, and we (especially our Canadian office) are used to unfounded criticism from Canada.

But I would like to draw your attention to the heartening reaction of the EU when it comes to cooperation with NGOs:

The European Union does not believe that scientific research becomes unreliable merely because it has been commissioned or facilitated by NGOs with a non-commercial interest.


The key point is whether the scientists involved produce unbiased scientific information.


The European Union notes that Canada's suggestions to the contrary would have the unacceptable implication that only government funded research could be admissible in WTO dispute settlement.


Canada's attempts to discredit the evidence relied upon by the European Union on these grounds are unfounded.


The EU’s second submission also clearly shows that the EU ban seeks to uphold a standard of conduct according to which it is morally wrong for humans to inflict suffering upon animals without sufficient justification.

The European Union refers to several opinion polls (undertaken by independent polling companies in several member states covering different years) as evidence that the EU population does care strongly about the welfare of seals and would regard a trade ban as an adequate response to serious seal welfare concerns.

As the EU notes in its submission;

‘The opinion polls…show a strong public demand for a ban on the marketing of seal products. This demand indicates the unacceptability of seal hunting, rather than mere dislike of seal hunting or preference for some alternative. This expression of unacceptability is evidence of a moral concern.’

You can get a legal overview of the WTO case here in an interview with Geneva-based trade lawyer Hannes Schloemann.

The hearings themselves are scheduled for April 29th and 30th. My friend and colleague Sheryl Fink will attend the hearings and report back on the proceedings.

-- Barbara Slee

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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