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September 24, 2012

HSI Condemns Canadian Government’s Move to Proceed with Senseless WTO Challenge against the EU Seal Product Trade Ban

Special interest groups put above Canadian values and key trade relations

Humane Society International

  • Seals are still under threat. HSI/Chad Sisneros

BRUSSELS—Humane Society International condemns the Canadian government’s decision to proceed with a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation against the European Union ban on seal product trade. The dispute has been pending since Canada and Norway initiated the challenge in November 2009. The move comes in the midst of negotiations for the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

"European citizens overwhelmingly supported the EU ban on trade in the products of commercial seal slaughters," said Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., HSI EU director. "This short sighted attack by the Canadian government on the democratic sovereignty of the EU to regulate its own trade is seriously damaging Canada’s relationship with the European Union. It is time the Canadian government listened to the will of Canadians and Europeans and ended the commercial seal slaughter for good."

Urge the government to withdraw the challenge!

"I am deeply disappointed to see Stephen Harper move this senseless WTO case forward in direct opposition to the will of Canadians and Europeans," said David Martin, a longstanding member of the committee on International Trade of the European Parliament. "This pointless attack on the democratic rights of European citizens to choose which products we place on our market is doomed to failure and a colossal waste of millions of Canadian tax dollars. Furthermore, while the Canadian government may want the public to believe otherwise, this WTO challenge is putting a serious strain on the ongoing Canada-EU trade negotiations."

"As the Vice Chair of the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament, I am dismayed to see the Canadian government proceed with this controversial WTO challenge," said Italian MEP Cristiana Muscardini. "EU citizens are not supporting any trade in products of inherently inhumane activities such as commercial sealing, and we have the right to defend our legislation vigorously at WTO. In addition, the European Parliament has made it clear that if Canada continues with the WTO challenge, it is far less likely to ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement currently being negotiated. As I often underlined to the EU Trade Commissioner, it is time to have an Animal Welfare chapter inside any Trade Agreements with third countries."

Canadian legal experts have estimated the cost of a WTO challenge to be about $10 million — many times the landed value of the seal slaughter in recent years. Moreover, Canada and the European Union are attempting to negotiate a free-trade deal reportedly worth billions to the Canadian economy and tens of millions to Canada’s fishing industry annually.

Canada’s two largest trading partners, the United States and the European Union, prohibit trade in products of commercial seal slaughters. Other countries have implemented similar measures. In 2009, Russia banned seal hunting, and last year, the Customs Union comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan banned trade in harp seal fur.

With the globally condemned Canadian sealing industry running out of places to sell its products, HSI calls on the Canadian government to implement a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry. This plan would involve ending the seal hunt, providing immediate compensation for sealers, and investing in economic alternatives in the communities involved.


  • 2009 polling showed that 86 percent of Canadians supported the right of the EU to prohibit seal product trade.
  • The EU Regulation passed in July 2009, and Canada and Norway initiated the challenge at the WTO several months later, in November of 2009. After consultations failed to resolve the matter, Canada and Norway requested a dispute panel in February of 2011, but did not follow through to actually compose a panel until now.
  • In June 2011, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on EU-Canada Trade Relations threatening to block ratification of CETA if Canada fails to withdraw its WTO challenge. More than 100 MEPs have signed an open letter to the Canadian government saying the EU Parliament should not ratify CETA until Canada drops its challenge.
  • 2010 polling shows that half of sealers in Newfoundland (Canada’s top sealing province), who hold an opinion, support a federal sealing industry buyout – a plan in which sealers would be compensated for their licenses, and funds invested in economic alternatives in the communities involved.
  • Veterinary experts have concluded Canada's commercial seal hunt is inherently inhumane given the extreme environmental conditions in which the sealers operate and the speed at which the killing must be conducted.


Media Contact: Rebecca Basu, +1 (301-258-3152), rbasu@humanesociety.org

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations—backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide—On the Web at hsi.org.

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