EU seal pelts import ban dispute goes to WTO court

Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:16pm EDT
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By Andrew Callus

GENEVA (Reuters) - Seal pelt exporter Canada won the right on Friday to have its grievance against a European Union import ban heard through the World Trade Organization's (WTO) court system.

The issue, which centers on an animal welfare controversy around seal hunting, now goes before a panel of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.

A panel can take up to nine months to publicly release its findings. Disputes can take much longer than that to resolve should an appeal be lodged.

The European Union closed its borders to seal products last year when an EU court allowed the ban to proceed despite Canada's objections.

The EU has said its law banning seal product imports respects its international obligations while responding to the concerns expressed by EU citizens about seal products from hunts which involve shooting seals and clubbing them to death.

Exports of seal pelts and other seal products from Canada to the EU are worth only a few million dollars, but Canada is keen to preserve the livelihoods of people in coastal and northern communities who depend on the annual seal harvest.

"The facts are that the Canadian seal harvest is lawful, sustainable, strictly regulated and guided by rigorous animal welfare principles," Canada's delegation to the WTO said in a statement.

The EU said on Friday it would defend its position.   Continued...