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NEWS: Canada to challenge EU seal ban at WTO, Feb. 24

Postmedia News reports that, “Canada has launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization against the European Union ban on Canadian seal products, despite the views of some that it could threaten a multibillion-dollar trade deal with Europe. …The federal government is requesting that a WTO dispute settlement panel be established on the issue. (Fisheries Minister Gail) Shea said the government is deeply disappointed the EU has not changed its position regarding the ban – which took effect in August 2010 – despite intense Canadian lobbying efforts. The European Parliament, dismissing Canada’s argument that the hunt is humane, voted by a 550-49 margin to impose the seal ban in May 2009.”

“The process is likely to take at least a year, Shea said. …The government’s request is to be heard at the next WTO dispute settlement body meeting on Feb. 24. At that time, the EU will have the chance to block the request. However, Canada can then make a second request at the following meeting on March 25, and the EU would be unable to block it again. A panel would then have to be set up.”

“A report tabled this week from the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade suggested the seal issue could hurt the chances that the Canada-European Union free trade agreement is ratified. …Shea dismissed such concerns yesterday, saying both sides have agreed to let the WTO handle the seal issue separately from the trade agreement. ‘The dispute with the EU will not affect our trade negotiations,’ she said.”

But the reality is that the ban is already affecting the negotiations. Newfoundland and Labrador is not participating in the Canada-EU CETA talks, it is only there as an observer. An earlier campaign blog pointed out that in February 2009, then-Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams said that the federal government would be abandoning his province if Prime Minister Harper did not demand that the EU drop the ban. Williams also said, “At this point, we are not willing to sign on to support the negotiation of a new and comprehensive economic agreement with the European Union.” (The provincial government’s media release on this can be read at http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2009/exec/0220n07.htm.) Harper replied that he would defend the sealing industry, but that he would not allow the ban to “contaminate” a potential CETA deal.

INVESTOR-STATE IMPLICATIONS? The European Union (and specifically the European Parliament which voted so decisively in favour of the ban on seal products) may now also be considering – as the inclusion of a binding investor-state provision in CETA is being negotiated at the next round of talks on April 11-15 in Ottawa – if its ban on importing seal products could be additionally challenged directly by a corporation with a stake in the seal products industry simply because the ban affects their profits.

The Montreal Gazette article is at http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Canada+challenge+European+seal/4270199/story.html.