Canada's seal ban appeal goes to WTO panel

Canada will get to challenge the European Union's trade ban on seal products at a World Trade Organization dispute panel.
Canada, which has argued that its annual seal hunt is conducted humanely, is challenging the European Union's ban on the import of seal products. A WTO dispute panel will be assembled to hear the case. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

Canada will get to challenge the European Union's trade ban on seal products at a World Trade Organization dispute panel.

The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, which met in Geneva on Friday, accepted Canada's request to have a panel of experts established to hear the dispute, federal officials confirmed.

Twenty-seven European countries adopted a resolution to ban the import of seal products in 2009, based in part on public opposition to Canada's controversial seal hunt.

Canada, which has maintained that its annual seal hunts are humane, argues that the seal ban resolution violates the EU's trade obligations.

"Canada is deeply disappointed that the European Union has ignored its international trade obligations with this measure," Fisheries Minister Gail Shea stated in a release Friday.

"We have requested the establishment of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to address the matter."

2nd request successful

Canada had asked the WTO Dispute Settlement Body to create a panel on the seal ban appeal last month, but the EU blocked that request.

But under WTO rules, a panel must be automatically set up if Canada makes a second request, which it did on Friday.

Federal officials told CBC News it's not clear when Canada's case will be heard, but a panel of independent experts could be established within the next few weeks or months.

Panels can take 15 months to make a public report and issue a ruling, federal officials said.

Norway has also submitted a request to the WTO dispute body for a panel to rule on the EU seal ban.

"We hope to continue to co-ordinate efforts with Norway and pursue the matter in tandem," Newfoundland and Labrador Senator Fabian Manning said in a release.

"Like Canada, Norway has long made efforts to ensure that the seal hunt is humane, well managed and sustainable."