August 20, 2010

EU Seal Ban Begins, Despite Legal Challenges

A proposed European Union (EU) ban on the importing of seal-based products went into effect on Friday, even after Inuit groups from Canada and Greenland won a court-order to delay the legislation's enactment, according to AFP reports.

"The commission would like to clarify that the trade ban put in place"¦ still comes into effect today," European Commission spokesperson Maria Kokkonen told the French news agency on Friday. "However, it will not apply to the applicants in this court case until the General Court has had the opportunity to hear all parties involved."

"The commission believes (the ban) ensures respect for all our international obligations, while at the same time responding to the concerns expressed by EU citizens," the organization also stated in a news release, which was printed by the Vancouver Sun on Friday. "It also ensures that the fundamental economic and social interests of Inuit communities engaged in the hunting of seals as a means to ensure their subsistence are not adversely affected."

The Canadian government is also challenging the rule at the World Trade Organization (WTO), according to Postmedia News European Correspondent Peter O'Neal.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that he was "strongly in opposition" to the seal product ban, telling Postmedia Reporter Mike DeSouza that it was "flagrant discrimination against the Canadian seal industry"¦ an industry of modest means that employs people who work hard."

"It is a disgrace that they are treated this way in some countries, based on no rational facts or information whatsoever," he added. "So we strongly object to the decision. We will continue to defend our sealers. As you know, we've made appeals through international processes and we will continue to seek trade opportunities for our sealers in other parts of the world."

According to the AFP, the European Council now has until September 7 to present their side of the argument, and a hearing would follow shortly thereafter. Once hearing from attorneys on both sides, the General Court would then decide whether or not to maintain the ban's suspension pending a final ruling on the legality of the proposed legislation.

In a statement posted to her organization's website, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Mary Simon said, "In our view, the seal ban is both illegal and immoral. Although we are not sure what future action the EU Court will take in this case, I welcome the current decision by the Court to stop the implementation of the ban as scheduled."

"I can only hope that the EU Court will determine that the ban and its so-called Inuit exemption are illegal. That would be a fitting conclusion to this totally unjustified action," she added, stating that the ruling was "clear evidence that the EU Court is very much aware of the seriousness and principled nature of the fundamental objections of Inuit and other plaintiffs to this very unjust law" and that she hoped that the European Commission would "do the right thing and withdraw its legislation."


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