On 26 September 2007, the Canadian government requested formal WTO consultations as it launched a trade dispute with Belgium over seal products. The Canadian action follows Belgium’s ban on the importation and marketing of seal products which was introduced in April 2007 and which Canada alleges is a “violation of Belgium’s international trade obligations under the WTO”.

Canada has been globally condemned for its trade in seal products. Animal rights activists and legislators in Europe and the US have attacked the inhuman hunting method in which the animals are often clubbed to death. Belgium was the first EU country to pass legislation banning the import of seal related products, although the Netherlands implemented a similar measure in July and others are considering similar bans.

The Canadian government argues that seal hunting is important to many remote coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and Quebec where other economic opportunities are limited. Canada is concerned that seal bans in Europe will undermine this activity. The EU is Canada’s second largest market for seal products valued at C$5.41million in exports 2006.

Canada will now begin formal consultations with the 27-nation EU, the first step before the government can ask WTO judges to rule on the case under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding.