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WTO Consultations on Belgian and Dutch decision to ban seal products

Backgrounder

On September 25 2007, Canada requested formal consultations at the WTO with the European Communities (EC) concerning measures taken by Belgium and the Netherlands regarding the importation and marketing of seal products.

Canada believes these measures to be inconsistent with the WTO obligations of both countries. Canada’s goal is to ensure that both countries comply with their international obligations and that markets remain open to Canada’s seal products. Canada is committed to a professional and highly regulated seal hunt and this action sends a strong message to other EU member states that may be considering similar legislation.

Canada would prefer to resolve the issue informally. Consultations – the first stage in the WTO dispute settlement process –allow parties to resolve their dispute outside a formal adjudicative process. If consultations fail, a WTO panel can be requested to adjudicate the dispute.

Sealing is important to many remote coastal communities in Newfoundland-and-Labrador, Nunavut and Quebec where other economic opportunities are limited. Canada is concerned that seal bans in Europe will undermine this activity. The EU is Canada’s second largest market for seal products at $5.41 million in exports 2006.

In 2005, an Independent Veterinary Working Group (IVWG) comprising Canadian, American and European expert veterinarians reviewed the humaneness of the Atlantic seal hunt. The findings concluded that:

  • Canada’s hunt was professional and highly regulated.

  • Canada manages the hunt based on the best possible practices and sound conservation principles.

  • The Canadian approach was sound and could be a model to improve humane practices and to reduce seal suffering in other hunts.

Further information about the WTO dispute settlement process can obtained from the WTO website.