Canada fights EU ban on seal products at WTO

Mon Nov 2, 2009 12:25pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada has taken action at the World Trade Organization to overturn a European Union ban on imports of seal products on concerns by animal rights groups of brutality in the seal hunt, the government said on Monday.

Ottawa has requested WTO consultations, the first stage in the world trade body's dispute settlement process, to protest the EU ban which was approved in July and will go into effect in time for the 2010 hunting season.

Trade Minister Stockwell Day said the ban, affecting around 4.2 million euros ($5.6 million) of business, violated the EU's trade obligations.

Opposition to the hunt is based on false information and emotion, rather than fact, he said.

"The Canadian seal hunt is a legitimate economic pursuit, and the EU's decision to ban the importation of seal products is based neither on science nor on facts," Day said in a statement.

Canada's main seal hunt takes place in March and April on the ice floes off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The seals are usually shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club called a hakapik. Seal products include fur used in clothing and oil used in vitamin supplements.

The Atlantic seal herd is estimated to number more than 5 million. In 2009, the quota for harp seals -- the main species hunted -- was 280,000.

The ban will exempt products from hunts carried out by the Inuit people in the Far North, for whom hunting seals for survival and trade is a traditional way of life. But Canada says the exemption is insufficient.

"Inuit groups have told us that this will do nothing to protect their access to European markets, and past experiences with such exemptions have shown us that they are not effective," said Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed his support for the seal hunt by dining on seal ribs and liver on a recent visit to the Arctic.

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson)