Historic WTO Ruling Upholds EU Ban on Seal Product Trade

Confirms EU’s right to prohibit trade in products of cruelty to animals

Humane Society International

  • We’re making progress in our campaign to save seals. Katie Carrus/The HSUS

BRUSSELS—The World Trade Organization has ruled in regards to the Canadian and Norwegian appeal of a 2013 WTO Panel decision in favour of the European Union ban on seal product trade. Joanna Swabe, EU director for Humane Society International, had the following response:

“This is a historic ruling. The WTO Appellate Body has recognised the EU’s right to ban commercial seal product trade. It is also one of the most important developments in the global campaign to protect seals. This decision confirms that the European Union market will remain closed to products of cruel commercial seal slaughters. EU citizens are strongly opposed to the brutal killing of defenceless baby seals for their fur, and we will never participate in this industry by financially supporting it. It is time both the Canadian and Norwegian governments listened to the world community and stopped the commercial seal slaughter forever.”

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  • In 2009, the EU prohibited trade in the products of commercial seal slaughters, a move supported by 86 percent of Canadians (Environics Research, 2008).
  • The EU ban contains a clear exemption for products of traditional Inuit seal hunts. HSI does not oppose Inuit subsistence sealing.
  • More than seven in ten adults (72 percent) across 11 European Union Member States support the EU’s ban on the sale of seal products in the EU (Ipsos MORI, 2011). More than 6000 people were surveyed for the poll.
  • In 2010, Canada and Norway challenged the EU ban at the WTO. HSI played a central role in helping the EU to defend its ban: extensive HSI video evidence of commercial sealing was shown to the WTO Panel, HSI coauthored an amicus brief that was considered in the case and HSI representatives attended the Panel hearings.
  • In 2013, the WTO ruled that the EU ban on trade in commercial seal products is justifiable on public morality grounds. The WTO Panel noted in the decision that commercial sealing poses inherent risks to animal welfare.
  • In January 2014, Canada and Norway appealed the WTO Panel report. The EU subsequently also appealed. HSI coauthored another amicus brief that was submitted to the WTO Appellate Body, and HSI representatives again attended the Appellate Body hearing.
  • The WTO appellate body ruled on May 22, 2014 and upheld the EU ban on trade in products of commercial seal hunts. It also found that the measure is not a technical regulation and therefore the TBT Agreement does not apply.
  • With more than two million seals killed since 2002, Canada’s commercial seal slaughter is the largest slaughters of marine mammals on earth. The seals are killed primarily for their fur and, because most Canadians oppose commercial sealing, the sealing industry relies almost exclusively on export markets to sell its products.
  • Global markets for seal products are closing fast. In 2009, the European Union joined the United States, Mexico and Croatia in prohibiting trade in products of commercial seal hunts. In 2011, the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus prohibited trade in harp seal fur, and in 2013, Taiwan ended its trade in all marine mammal products (including seal products).


Media contact: Christopher Pare, office: 514 395-2914/cell: 438 402-0643, email: cpare@hsi.org