Canada launches challenge against EU seal product ban

A seal laying in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada The ban on trading seal products was approved by the EU's 27 member states in 2009

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The Canadian government has launched a formal challenge against the EU over its ban on Canadian seal products.

Canada asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a formal dispute resolution panel to review the EU ban and determine whether the ban complies with WTO rules.

The ban was approved by the EU's 27 member states in 2009 and went into effect last year.

The market for seal products has been cut by more than half in recent years.

Canadian fisheries minister Gail Shea told reporters on Friday that Canada's fight was "a matter of principle".

"By moving ahead with this World Trade Organization challenge, we stand behind the thousands of Canadians in coastal and northern communities who depend on the seal harvest to provide a livelihood for their families," Ms Shea said.

She added that she believed the European Parliament had "sided with animal rights lobbyists".

Previous requests

Canada requested WTO consultations on the ban in November 2009.

Two sets of consultations took place following the request, but neither set resolved the issue.

In 2006, Canada exported about $5.5m (£3.5m) worth of seal products to the EU, but the market has been drastically cut in recent years.

And even if Canada succeeds in convincing the WTO panel the ban breaks its rules, more than three years could pass before the WTO acts and the EU responds, Canadian officials said.

Roughly 6,000 licensed seal hunters reside on the eastern coast of Canada, but only a few hundred hunted in 2009.

About 67,000 seals were killed during the 2009 hunting season in the province of Newfoundland, which set its hunt limit at 350,000.

The population of harp seals has been estimated at about 6.9m, more than three times what it was in the 1970s.

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