TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar11/03)
3 March 2011
Third World Network
EC blocks Canadian panel requests over seal
Published in SUNS #7097 dated 28
Geneva, 25 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- Two separate requests
by Canada for the establishment of dispute panels over measures imposed
by the European Communities prohibiting the importation and marketing
of seal products were blocked by the European Communities at a meeting
of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) on 24 February.
These were both first-time requests and panel
establishment would be automatic when both requests by Canada
come up again before the DSB.
The first dispute (WT/DS369/2) concerns certain
measures taken by Belgium and the Netherlands regarding the importation,
transportation, manufacturing, marketing, and sale of seal products.
In its communication to the DSB, Canada
said that the Belgian trade ban prohibits the preparation for sale or
delivery to consumers, transport for sale or delivery, possession for
the purpose of sale, importation, distribution and transfer of seal
products. The Belgian import licensing requirement imposes a requirement
that an import licence be issued for the importation of seal products.
The Dutch trade ban prohibits the importation
of and trade in all harp seal and hooded seal products regardless of
the animal's age.
This includes a prohibition against asking for
the sale, the buying or acquisition, the holding for sale or in stock,
the selling or offering for sale, the transportation or offering for
transport, the delivery, the use for commercial profit, the renting
or hiring, the exchange or offer in exchange, the trade or exhibiting
for commercial purposes or the bringing or possessing within or outside
the territory of the Netherlands, of harp seal and hooded seal products,
considered that these measures were inconsistent with the European Union's
obligations under the GATT 1994 and under the Technical Barriers to
Trade (TBT) Agreement. Canada also considered
that the Belgian trade ban violated the provisions of the GATT 1994.
The second dispute (WT/DS400/4) brought by Canada
against the EC concerns Regulation (EC) No. 1007/2009 of the European
Parliament and of the Council of 16 September 2009 on trade in seal
In a communication to the DSB, Canada
said that on 17 August 2010, the European Commission published Commission
Regulation (EU) No 737/2010 laying down detailed rules for the implementation
of Regulation (EC) No. 1007/2009 of the European Parliament and of the
Council on trade in seal products.
According to the Canadian communication, the European
Union trade ban prohibits the importation and the placing on the market
for sale in the European Union customs territory of any seal product
except: (a) those derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit
and other indigenous communities, which contribute to their subsistence;
and (b) those that are by-products of a hunt regulated by national law
and with the sole purpose of sustainable management of marine resources.
In addition, said Canada,
seal products for personal use may be imported but may not be placed
on the market. The effect of the trade ban, in combination with the
implementing measure, is to restrict virtually all trade in seal products
within the European Union, and in particular with respect to seal products
of Canadian origin, added Canada.
considered that each of the measures referred to is inconsistent with
the European Union's obligations under the GATT 1994 and under the TBT
In its statement at the DSB, Canada
explained its reasoning behind the two panel requests. It said that
the first concerns Belgian and Dutch measures that came into force on
28 April and 23 October 2007, respectively, and that prohibit the importation
and the marketing of seal products. The second request refers to an
European Union regulation that came into effect on 20 August 2010 that
bans trade in seal products.
said that while it may be that the European Union ban supersedes the
Belgian and the Dutch bans for the purposes of the application of European
Union law, it understands that the two national bans, to this date,
have not yet been repealed and therefore remain in effect. This is why
has made two separate panel requests, it said.
further said that it understands that according to the EU, the measures
that are the subject of Canada's panel
requests have been instituted in response to concerns of its citizens
and consumers about animal welfare aspects of the seal harvest.
While the Government of Canada respects an individual's
choice to support or oppose the seal harvest - it noted that several
EU member states also allow their citizens to participate in the hunting
of seals - Canada said that it also believes that trade restrictions
cannot be justified by relying on myths and misinformation, and it encouraged
people to form their opinions based on the facts.
The facts, according to Canada,
are that the seal harvest is lawful, sustainable, humane, strictly regulated
and guided by rigorous animal welfare principles that are internationally
recognized by virtually all independent observers.
In addition, Canada
said that the methods used by Canadian sealers and prescribed in Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations
are consistent with the recommendations of independent veterinarians
and many of the conclusions of the European Union's own European Food
Safety Authority report released in 2007.
It also said that the Canadian government monitors
the seal harvest closely, including ongoing aerial patrols, sophisticated
vessel monitoring systems, at-sea and dockside vessel inspections, and
regular inspections of processing facilities.
It stressed that the Canadian seal harvest helps
to provide thousands of jobs in Canada's remote
coastal and northern communities where few economic opportunities exist.
It has also been an important part of the Inuit way of life for centuries.
said that although it has requested that two panels be established,
it would be pleased if the EU would agree to have the two panels joined
once they have been established, so that the two disputes, which are
closely related, can be heard by a single set of panellists.
With respect to the second dispute concerning
the EC Council regulation on trade in seal products, Canada said that
the regulation allows seal products to be placed on the market only
where they result from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other
However, said Canada,
the Inuit themselves have made it clear that they strongly oppose the
regulation. Sealing has been and continues to be an important part of
the Inuit way of life, demonstrating individual hunting skills and expressing
cultural pride and identity.
In the 1980s, Canada
pointed out, the European Communities had imposed a ban on certain seal
products, which virtually destroyed the market for seal products and
led to a loss of livelihood for Inuit who sell seal skins as a by-product
of the subsistence hunt. Interestingly, that ban too, contained a specific
exemption for Inuit seal products.
While the market in Europe
for Canadian seal products did eventually recover somewhat, the chilling
effect of the various pieces of legislation currently in force has resulted
in an extreme decline in Canadian exports. For example, said Canada,
exports of raw seal fur skins to the European Union fell by 94% in 2009
as compared to 2008.
Based on previous experience, Canada
maintained that there is every reason to believe that the EU's exemption
for trade in traditional Inuit and Aboriginal seal products will again
prove to be ineffective, particularly in the face of the collapse of
the larger market, and the Inuit will once again suffer the effects.
The solution to this is the restoration of full market access.
In its statement, the EU believed that the measures
are neither protectionist nor discriminatory, and are fully in compliance
with WTO rules. The EU said that it stands ready to defend such measures.
In an intervention, Norway
said that the EU measures prohibiting the importation and marketing
of seal products have serious implications for Norway
as well, which is why it had requested and held consultations, together
with Canada, on this
"This dispute is not just about seal products,
but more importantly about our right to harvest in a sustainable manner
from our living marine resources, and to market the products of hunting
and fishing," said Norway. +
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