Adoption of the EU Regulation to adapt EU seal ban to WTO rules by the Council

Today, on 1st October 2015 the Council finally adopted a Regulation in order to adapt the current EU legislation on trade in seal products to the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Background information: In 2009, the EU Seal Regulation (EC 1007/2009) was adopted, prohibiting the placing on the EU market of seal products, in response to concerns of EU citizens regarding animal welfare. The Regulation contains two exceptions: the first is for products derived from hunts conducted by Inuit or other indigenous communities (IC exception); and the second is for hunts conducted for the purpose of the sustainable management of marine resources on a small scale and non-profit basis (MRM exception).

Canada and Norway challenged the Regulation in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute on EC – Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products (DS400 and DS401). The WTO considered the general ban on seal products justified for moral concerns regarding animal welfare, but found the two exceptions from the general rule problematic. In particular, the WTO judged that the two exceptions lead a discriminatory treatment of Canadian and Norwegian seal products. Despite MRM hunts being small in scale and not profit-oriented, the Panel considered that the differences between those hunts and the bigger commercial hunts were not sufficient to justify a different treatment.

Therefore, the EU has to modify its current regime in order bring its Regulation into compliance with WTO rules. Thus, the Commission proposed an amendment to the current Regulation on trade in seal products.

Regarding the MRM exception, the EC proposal removes such exception the MRM exception.

Regarding the IC exception, the proposal links the use of the exception to the respect of animal welfare: it is “conditional upon those hunts being conducted in a manner which reduces pain, distress, fear or other forms of suffering of the animals hunted to the extent possible”, and provides for a mechanism that would help prevent its misuse.

Moreover, the IC exception should be limited to hunts that contribute to the subsistence need of those communities and are thus not conducted for commercial purposes. Thus, the Commission should be enabled to limit, if necessary, the quantity of seal products placed on the market.

The EC proposal was voted at the beginning of June by the Internal Market Committee within the European Parliament, where MEPs ruled out EU sales of seal products from MRM hunts, while keeping the IC exception and linking it to the respect of animal welfare. In October, the EU Parliament voted also.