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Inuit Decry WTO Appellate Decision to Uphold Discriminatory, Flawed Seal Ban

Media Release: May 22, 2014

National Inuit Leader Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami decried a decision by the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to uphold a discriminatory European Union (EU) ban on Canadian seal products.

The Appellate Body failed to overturn a 2013 WTO Panel’s decision that the EU seal ban is “necessary to protect public morals,” an argument that Inuit find abhorrent. The EU doesn’t deny that the ban is discriminatory, but argues that the discrimination is justified.

“I am morally outraged at the self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness of the EU’s claim to protect the morals of its citizens,” said Audla. “Inuit live according to the principles of fairness and compassion and we seek nothing more than to feed our families and make an honest living in the modern economy. It is morally reprehensible for anyone to impede those goals – which are the basic rights of any citizen of the world.”

Inuit continue to reject the so-called “Inuit exemption” clause of the legislation, which was not designed by or in negotiation with Inuit, and remains an empty box. In its November 2013 decision, the WTO panel noted an “inherent flaw in the design and structure” of the Inuit exemption that would allow Greenland Inuit products to enter the EU but not Canadian Inuit products. The 2013 decision called on the EU to address the discriminatory aspects of the legislation.

“From what we can gather from today’s appeal finding, the Inuit exemption itself is considered unjustified under Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which potentially creates another set of problems with the EU in relation to Indigenous peoples,” Audla said. “Nevertheless, I want to clarify that our position from the start has been a rejection of the seal ban regulation as a whole, including all that is contained in it, including the Inuit exemption.”

“If the EU substantially and meaningfully consulted with all circumpolar Inuit prior to the entry of the ban, I am more than certain that we would have unanimously advised the EU institutions not to impose a ban,” he added. “While Greenland is attempting to implement the exemption, I know that they are in principle against the ban, and are fighting an uphill battle against the negative market impacts the ban has brought to the EU.”

Seal populations are abundant, and seal harvests are sustainable in regions where seals are harvested. Animal products are used and traded throughout the world on a regular basis. Seals are no different. The harvest provides important economic value to individuals and communities, as well as sources of income much needed to help sustain livelihoods and ways of life.

A May 2014 poll commissioned by the Trade Fairness Coalition ( found that a majority of Europeans (63%) support seal hunting in some form, and that three-quarters of Europeans see the use of animals as acceptable as long as it is done in a way that protects animal welfare and the sustainability of the resource.