Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic May 22, 2014 - 1:33 pm

WTO appeal body rules in favour of EU seal product ban

EU rules “necessary to protect public morals,” WTO body says in rejecting Canada-Norway appeals

Canada faced another setback May 22 when the WTO upheld the European Union’s ban on the import of seal products. (FILE PHOTO)
Canada faced another setback May 22 when the WTO upheld the European Union’s ban on the import of seal products. (FILE PHOTO)

Canada’s efforts aimed at getting a European Union ban on seal products overturned failed May 22 when the World Trade Organization’s appellate body decided to maintain the ban.

The WTO upheld an earlier ruling that EU rules were “necessary to protect public morals.”

The European Parliament first passed the ban on seal products in 2009, saying commercial seal hunting, notably in Canada, is “inherently inhumane.”

That set off a series of appeals by the Canadian government, Inuit and sealing groups to convince the WTO that the seal hunt is both humane and sustainable.

In 2012, the WTO set up an international panel to hear challenges mounted against the ban by the governments of Canada and Norway.

In response to a challenge to the EU ban filed by Canada and Norway in 2011, the WTO found last November that the ban is inconsistent with fair trade practices, but is justified because it’s intended to address “public moral concerns.”

The dispute entered another stage this past January, when each country filed appeals against a WTO ruling that the EU ban is justified on moral grounds.

But this most recent decision upheld that ruling, to the disappointment of the Harper government, who has long called the ban discriminatory.

“For more than three years our government has fought against the European Union’s unfair ban on seal products by elevating it to a World Trade Organization’s dispute resolution panel,” said the federal government in a May 22 statement.

“Canada’s position has been that the eastern and northern seal harvests are humane, sustainable and well-regulated activities that provide an important source of food and income for coastal and Inuit communities. The ban on seal products adopted in the European Union was a political decision that has no basis in fact or science.”

But the federal government said it was pleased with a part of the WTO body’s decision that says the EU’s seal regime is arbitrarily and unjustifiably applied.

The appeal body reversed some portions of a WTO panel decision last year, ruling that the EU discriminated against imports from Canada and Norway in favour of seal products from the EU.

“The WTO Appellate Body confirmed the EU measure violates its international obligations and has ordered the EU to bring itself into compliance,” said the federal government. “We are currently reviewing the practical impact of the decision on the Atlantic and northern seal harvests.”

A week before the decision came down, a poll commissioned by the Trade Fairness Coalition suggested that a majority of Europeans are opposed to any WTO bans on commercial products based on “public morality” — unless there is clear evidence to support the ban.

An Abacus Data survey recently conducted in six European countries found that half of respondents oppose banning commercial products based on public morality, compared to only 33 per cent who support that approach.

More than half of the survey’s respondents — 57 per cent — believe that if the WTO decision is upheld it could have a negative impact on the trade of other animal or natural products.

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