David Martin: Nations should have the right to ban cruel seal trade

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THERE was much jubilation when, in September 2009, a vote in the European Parliament and Council adopted a regulation banning the marketing and importing of seal products. It had been a hard-fought campaign.

What was not so well-publicised was that almost immediately Canada and Norway filed requests for World Trade Organisation (WTO) consultations aimed at challenging the ban.

Their complicated claims concerned alleged violations to the traditional General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), violations of the Technical Barriers to Trade agreements (TBT) and violations to the Agreement on Agriculture. The first hearing with the parties took place in February and the report will come out later this year.

This WTO appeal has raised the question as to whether banning the import and export of seal products for moral reasons violates WTO law, that is, whether moral, ethical, and philosophical reasons can be considered adequate to justify trade-restrictive measures. A positive ruling will confirm that countries are entitled to introduce trade restrictions and trade bans on the basis of public morality and animal welfare only if these comply with WTO rules.

I believe that if one group of veterinarians in a country concludes that the killing of seals by a particular method is humane then this cannot prevent another country, people or union of member states from interpreting differently, according to their own moral commitments and attitudes.

Legitimate, well-founded, almost universally respected moral justifications such as respect for animal welfare and repugnance at complicity with cruelty to animals should not be dismissed as grounds for regulation.

I and many of my colleagues are urging the European Union to stand strong in defence of seal regulation.

Scientific evidence has concluded that it is inherently impossible to kill seals in a humane manner. Only a trade ban can ensure that this concern is addressed properly. Meanwhile Canada and Norway continue to dismiss the concern and outrage of millions of Europeans as well as their right to reject products which are the result of animal suffering.

• David Martin is a Labour MEP for Scotland.