23rd Oct 2016

WTO confirms EU seal trade ban

  • Thousands of seal pups are killed during the hunting season (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU's four-year-old ban on seal fur will remain in place after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rejected an appeal by Canada and Norway thus setting a precedent that animal welfare can trump the right to trade.

In its landmark ruling on Thursday (22 May), the Geneva-based trade organisation said that its appellate body had "upheld the panel's finding that the EU Seal Regime is 'necessary to protect public morals'".

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  • The EU's seal ban "upholds moral concerns," the WTO has ruled. (Photo: EUobserver)

The decision by the WTO's appellate body, which is final, found that complaints by Norway and Canada that their seal trade was being affected were outweighed by the EU's objective of protecting seal welfare through the ban.

The seal fur ban became an unlikely issue during the 2009 European elections following a sustained lobbying effort by MEPs and animal welfare charities.

Thousands of seal pups are killed during the hunting season, often being shot and then clubbed to death. Seal skins and fur are used for making luxury clothing.

"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," said IFAW EU Regional Director Sonja Van Tichelen.

"The ban is backed by the most rigorous scientific and socio-economic examination of commercial seal hunts around the world ever conducted," she added.

However, the EU will be forced to re-write its rules exempting Inuit communities from the ban, after the WTO ruled that the exemption discriminated against commercial fishers in Canada and Norway.

In a statement, the European Commission said that it would "review the findings on these exceptions to the ban and consider options for implementation".

"Overall, the Commission welcomes today's ruling as it upholds the ban imposed in reaction to genuine concerns of EU citizens."

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