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WTO grants Canada request for hearing on EU seal products ban

The dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] on Friday granted Canada's request to hear its dispute of the EU's [official website] ban on the import of seal products. Canada requested [filing; DOC] establishment of a panel to hear the dispute in February. In its request, Canada alleges that the seal ban is inconsistent with the obligations of the EU under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade [text; PDF]. Specifically, Canada contends that the ban results in less favorable treatment of seal products from Canada than seal products originating from the EU, creates an unnecessary obstacle to international trade, lacks a legitimate objective and is needlessly trade restrictive even if a legitimate objective does exist. The EU has stated its intentions to defend its position [Reuters report] in the hearing. The EU defends the law banning seal imports as one that is consistent with its international obligations and responds to concerns by its citizens about seal products. The panel is expected to take nine months to publicly release their findings.

The EU Court of Justice [official website] reinstated the ban on import of seal products [JURIST report] in October. Representatives of Canada's Inuit population sued the EU over the original ban [JURIST report] in January 2010, arguing that the hunting represented a traditional aspect of the Inuit's lifestyle. The Canadian government took action against the original ban [press release] in November 2009, initiating the WTO dispute resolution process by requesting consultations. The original ban was implemented in September 2009 following extensive public pressure to end seal hunting by groups citing humanitarian considerations. More narrow European restrictions imposed in 1983 caused the industry to suffer a sharp decline. Commercial seal hunting is an economic and cultural staple for the Inuit, who contend that their methods are necessary and humane.

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