UPDATE: Ottawa will appeal a World Trade Organization ruling that says aspects of Europe's ban on imported seal products undermine fair trade but can be justified on "public moral concerns'' for animal welfare.GENEVA - The World Trade Organization has ruled that while aspects of the European Union ban on imported seal products undermine fair trade, those restrictions can be justified on "public moral concerns" for animal welfare.
The WTO's decision affects hunters in Atlantic outports and Inuit communities who say the embargo discriminates against Canadian seal products.
"Canada remains steadfast in its position that the seal harvest is a humane, sustainable and well-regulated activity," the federal government said in a statement. "Any views to the contrary are based on myths and misinformation, and the panel's findings should be of concern to all WTO members.''
At issue was a challenge by Canada and Norway of the 28-member EU's 2010 ban on the import and sale of seal fur, meat, blubber and other products.
Norway argued that the embargo unfairly exempts some seal products, including from some smaller-scale European hunts, but not those from its commercial hunt.
Ottawa has staunchly defended sealers, talked up the potential of other markets such as China, and deflected animal rights protests as it supported seal meat tastings for MPs and senators.
While anti-sealing advocates say it's a landmark victory that upholds the EU embargo, the WTO points out inconsistencies that it wants fixed.
It says exceptions for aboriginal hunts under the ban are not being fairly applied and consequently "accord imported seal products treatment less favourable" than for domestic and some other foreign products.
However, the ruling also finds that the ban "fulfils the objective of addressing the EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure has been demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution" to that goal.
The report released Monday from a WTO dispute settlement panel affects hunters in Atlantic outports and Inuit communities who say the embargo discriminates against Canadian seal products.
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The federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said the EU embargo violates Europe's WTO obligations. Norway argued that the embargo unfairly exempts some seal products, including from some smaller-scale European hunts, but not those from its commercial hunt.
Ottawa has staunchly defended the seal hunt as humane and sustainable, talking up the potential of other markets such as China, but the Canadian sealing industry is a shadow of what it used to be.
The ban is hailed by animal welfare activists who say the hunt is a cruel and needless slaughter. It has also drawn Hollywood star power from the likes of actor Jude Law who want it upheld.
The EU ban exempts seal products resulting from Inuit or other aboriginal hunts, along with those carried out solely to manage ocean resources.
There are 60 days to appeal the WTO decision.
The commercial seal hunt off Newfoundland last spring landed about 91,000 harp seals, up from 69,000 the year before but far short of the federal quota of 400,000.
About 900,000 seals are hunted around the world each year, according to the European Commission. Countries that have commercial hunts include Canada, Norway, Greenland and Namibia.
Countries with bans on imported seal products include the U.S., Mexico, Russia and Taiwan.
A European Union court last year upheld the EU embargo, saying it's valid because it fairly harmonizes the EU market while protecting the economic and social interests of Inuit communities.