Canada is taking its seal-products dispute with the European Union to the World Trade Organization.


A hunter heads toward a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in March. Canada has taken its complaint against an EU ban on Canadian seal products to the WTO, Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Monday. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

Trade Minister Stockwell Day says Ottawa has formally requested WTO consultations into Europe's ban on Canadian seal products, the first stage of the world body's dispute-settlement process.

Day says the regulation, adopted by 27 European countries earlier this year, is a violation of the EU's trade obligations.

Canada is arguing that the seal hunt is "a legitimate economic pursuit" and the EU ban is based "neither on science nor on facts."

The European Union typically accounts for about 15 per cent of Canada's seal exports.

In 2007, Canada exported more than $13 million worth of seal products, including meat, oil and skins.

South Korea and Japan were the largest consumers of seal meat while China, South Korea and the United States bought the most seal fat and oil from Canada.

When it comes to seal skins, about 80 per cent are sent to Norway.

The ban, published as a regulation in the Official Journal of the European Union, is to come into force next August.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says Canada has made a case at all levels of the EU that the seal hunt is sustainable, humane and closely monitored, and it will continue to counter what she calls a "misinformation campaign" by lobbyists.

The EU regulation includes limited exemptions for products from Inuit hunts, culls conducted solely to manage marine resources, and for travellers' personal imports.

Canada's latest request for consultations is linked to unresolved consultations with the WTO over seal-product bans in Belgium and the Netherlands.