(November, 25, 2013) The WTO ruled today on the European Union's (EU) ban on imports of seal products from commercial sealing operations. This affects the Canadian seal 'hunt', in which over 339,000 harp seal pups were killed since the import ban was passed in 2009, and the massacre of Cape fur seals (80,000 nursing pups and 6,000 bulls each year) in Namibia.
Canada, Namibia, and Norway challenged this EU ban, alleging that it was an unfair barrier to free trade. The WTO held hearings in the spring of 2013, in which representatives from these countries claimed that the killing is humane and well-regulated.
The European Union responded, with help from NGO's that have monitored the Canadian seal 'hunt', such as IFAW and HSI, providing evidence that the killing is inhumane. The U.S. also testified at the hearings in favor of maintaining the import ban. Read the testimony of third party countries including Mexico, the U.S., and Japan here.
Today, the WTO issued its ruling. "The panel determined that the EU Seal Regime is a technical regulation and that the EU Seal Regime does not violate Article 2.2 of the TBT Agreement because it fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective."
The WTO did raise objections to the exemptions given to certain Inuit (indigenous) communities, a small number of whom are engaged in international trade of seal products. "The panel concluded that the IC [indigenous communities] exception under the EU Seal Regime violates Article I:1 of the GATT 1994 because an advantage granted by the European Union to seal products originating in Greenland (specifically, its Inuit population) is not accorded immediately and unconditionally to the like products originating in Norway."
The panel also objected to the exemption in the EU rule for seal products that are obtained from hunts conducted for purposes of 'marine resource management' (MRM). "With respect to the MRM exception, the panel found that it violates Article III:4 of the GATT 1994 because it accords imported seal products treatment less favourable than that accorded to like domestic seal products. The panel also found that the IC exception and the MRM exception are not justified under Article XX(a) of the GATT 1994 (“necessary to protect public morals”) because they fail to meet the requirements under the chapeau of Article XX (“not applied in a manner that would constitute arbitrary or unjustified discrimination where the same conditions prevail or a disguised restriction on international trade”)."
The summary of the WTO ruling can be found here. The full texts of the ruling are here (400R) and here (Appendices: 400RA1).
Harpseals.org believes that exemptions and exceptions to the EU ban on seal product imports are unnecessary and should be removed from the EU regulations. This will resolve the issues raised by the WTO.
Inuit hunting of seals should be permitted only insofar as it is necessary for the survival of the communities that still engage in subsistence hunting. Trade in seal products by Inuit should come under the EU ban, without exceptions. For more on our take on Inuit sealing read ourFAQ's.
Sealing should not be allowed as part of resource management measures. Seals are an important part of the marine ecosystem. They are not the cause of the depletion of fish stocks. The problems that fishermen are seeing around the globe arise from over-fishing; destructive, industrial fishing practices like bottom trawling, long lining, and purse seining; man-made pollution of the oceans with plastic waste, radioactive waste (including the large amount of radioactive wastewater dumped into the Pacific ocean by Japan), and chemical waste, which is building up in the bodies of fish and marine mammals; and climate change, which is acidifying the oceans (causing losses of coral reefs and weakening the shells of crustaceans), changing ocean currents, raising the temperature of the oceans, and melting Arctic, sub-Arctic, and Antarctic ice (which is causing polar bears and ice seals to drown in large numbers).