Thursday

23rd May 2019

WTO backs EU seal fur ban over 'moral concerns'

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has confirmed the EU's controversial ban on seal products, ruling that the ban was a response to "moral concerns."

A report released Monday (25 November) by a WTO panel found that the EU's ban "fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent."

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  • It is the first time the WTO has backed a trade restriction based on animal welfare grounds (Photo: Animaldefense)

"No alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective."

The ruling is significant because it is the first time that the Swiss-based WTO, which governs and enforces trade between 194 countries across the world, has backed a trade restriction based on animal welfare grounds.

A common but untested belief of many was that countries were not allowed to impose trade restrictions on the basis of how a product is produced.

The WTO ruling was "a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans,“ said Sonja Van Tichelen, IFAW EU Regional Director in a statement on Monday (25 November).

“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,” she added

The EU's ban, which was agreed by MEPs and ministers just before the last European elections in 2009, came into force in August 2010.

It applies to seal products that are produced in the EU and to imported products, with an exemption for Inuit and aboriginal peoples. Animal welfare campaigners have long argued that the seal hunt is cruel and barbaric.

However, the WTO found that several of the ban's exemptions related to products from Inuit communities were illegal because they give imported seal products treatment less favourable than that accorded to like domestic seal products.

Canada and Norway challenged the European Union’s seal products trade ban at the World Trade Organization in early 2012.

While being of great symbolic importance to aboriginal communities, the value of the seal hunt has rapidly declined in recent years.

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

Russia is now the main destination for seal products.

Thirty-four countries now ban the trade in seal products, the most recent being Taiwan which closed its market to seal meat, oil and fur in January 2013.

The countries concerned now have 60 days to file an appeal against the ruling.

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