WTO Rules in Favour of European Union Seal Product Ban

WTO Rules in Favour of European Union Seal Product Ban
Thursday, 22 May, 2014

IFAW – the International Fund for Animal Welfare – is delighted that the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body has largely upheld the European Union’s ban on seal products. As in an earlier first instance ruling, the WTO found that moral considerations — including concerns about animal welfare — can justify trade restrictions. As a consequence only small adjustment will need to be made.

“This is a wonderful day for seals,” says Sheryl Fink, IFAW’s Canadian Wildlife Programs Director. “The governments of Canada and Norway used every technical argument they could to try to force products from a cruel and unnecessary commercial seal hunts on Europeans. But reason and compassion have triumphed. This is a great day for animal welfare, and the WTO is to be congratulated on this ruling.”

IFAW applauds the WTO for reiterating the importance of public morality in international trade, and the European Union for taking this principled stand against the inhumane slaughter of seals. The ban is the result of decades of grassroots opposition to commercial seal hunting, and backed by the most rigorous scientific and socio-economic examination of commercial seal hunts around the world ever conducted. The positive recognition of animal welfare as a legitimate public morals concern affirms the relevance of the WTO in a changing world.

IFAW will continue to work with the EU to make any necessary modifications to the legislation. IFAW’s in-depth knowledge of commercial sealing, and first hand experience of documenting decades of commercial seal hunting, allowed us to contribute two Amicus Briefs for reference during the proceedings. Through our organizing efforts, we have also facilitated the expression of public outrage over the commercial seal hunt to the decision-makers who put this ban in place.

The EU will have at least until 2015 to make the necessary changes to its Regulation. 

Key Facts:

• Although the EU itself was a small market for seal products, the EU ban on the trade of products has global influence and it has resulted declines of global demand for seal products.
• There are 33 countries which now ban the trade in seal products, most notably the 28 Member States of the EU, Russia Kazakhstan Belarus, Croatia, Mexico, and the USA (Canada’s closest trading partner).
• Currently, more money is spent by governments in Canada on supporting the commercial seal hunt than the landed value of seals.
• Over 98% of seals killed in the commercial hunt are between 2 weeks and 3 months of age.
• IFAW does not, and has never, campaigned against the Inuit hunt, or the personal hunt of seals for food in Newfoundland.

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 and sale of all seal products, with exemptions for personal items, and seal products derived from Inuit and “Marine Resource Management” hunts.
• November 2, 2009 Canada and Norway launch WTO challenge against EU ban.
• August 20, 2010 EU ban comes into force.
• February 18-20, 2013, WTO panel hears arguments from Canada, Norway, and EU.
• November 25, 2013 WTO panel releases ruling; upholds in principle the EU ban saying it is justifiable on moral grounds, but criticizing exceptions as being applied in a  discriminatory way, requiring adjustments.
• January 24, 2014 Canada and Norway announce that they will appeal the WTO panel decision. The EU follows suit with a cross-appeal.
• March 17-19, 2014 WTO Appellate Body hears appeals from Canada, Norway, and the EU.
• May 22, 2014 WTO Appellate Body releases final decision.
• The official timeline of the WTO challenge can be found here.

About IFAW

Founded in 1969 to end the commercial seal hunt, IFAW now rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

For further information or to schedule interviews with Sheryl Fink, Director of Wildlife Programs for IFAW Canada, please contact:

Res (Andreas) Krebs, IFAW Canada Communications Officer
Telephone: (416) 669-3459
Email: akrebs@ifaw.org

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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