On Thursday, 22nd May 2014, the World Trade Organisation upheld the European Union’s ban on the import of seal pelts, oil and meat on moral grounds. Canada and Norway had previously challenged the ban.
The fundamental point of this ruling is that trade issues cannot trump concerns over animal welfare and conservation.
The ruling comes at a time when WDC is calling on the EU to move to formally stop EU seaports and airports acting as transit points for Icelandic and Nowegian whale meat. Currently the EU is reviewing the legal situation with regard to this trade, but early indicators have suggested that they have been concerned that trade committments would override animal welfare and conservation issues.
Many EU states have agreed with WDC and have been arguing with the EU Commission that EU law on the protection of whales should allow them to stop this illicit trade from abusing the hospitality of EU ports.
The WTO’s Appellate Body ruling also agreed that the EU’s ban on seal products is necessary to protect public morals as spelled out in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
The EU ban contains exceptions for Canada’s indigenous Inuits and Inuvialuit peoples from the northern province of Nunavut, who argue that the market for their seal products has been seriously affected by the overall embargo. Greenland’s Kalaallit hunters are also exempt. Their homeland is an autonomous territory of EU member Denmark, but is not part of the 28-nation bloc.
Canada and Norway said Greenland’s exemptions were unfair to non-indigenous hunting communities and that the scale of Greenland’s hunt was comparable to commercial sealing.
This last claim is interesting in that, within the IWC, Norway supports Greenland’s move to more commercial whaling in an attempt to blur the lines between commercial whaling and the IWC’s recognised Aborginal Subsistance Whaling (ASW).
This strategy has seen a huge set back in the recent International Court of Justice ruling on so-called ‘scientific whaling’, where the ICJ ruled that there were no exceptions to the IWC’s recognsied whaling of commercial whaling, ASW, and Article VIII (sceintific) whaling, and that there was no such intermediate whaling as argued for by Norway.