UPDATE 1-WTO says EU can ban seal imports on moral grounds

Thu May 22, 2014 12:55pm EDT

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GENEVA May 22 (Reuters) - The European Union fended off an attempt by Norway and Canada to overturn its ban on imports of their seal products, winning an important part of an appeal ruling at the World Trade Organization on Thursday

The WTO's Appellate Body upheld an earlier ruling that the EU rules were "necessary to protect public morals", although it also let stand an earlier finding that the EU had illegally discriminated against imports from Canada and Norway in favour of seal products from within the 28-nation bloc.

Many animal rights groups have long said the commercial killing of seals and their pups for fur and other products is cruel, but Canada has said public opposition to its seal trade was based on "myths and misinformation".

"This is a wonderful day for seals," Sheryl Fink, a Canadian who is the wildlife programs director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in an emailed statement. "This is a great day for animal welfare, and the WTO is to be congratulated on this ruling."

In its convoluted ruling, the Appellate Body judges - whose decision is final - faulted the EU on several counts, including for failing to properly justify its ban, even though the ban itself was upheld.

Jenni Byrne, a senior adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said on Twitter: "The ban on seal products adopted in the EU was a political decision that has no basis in fact or science.

"Today the WTO confirmed (the) EU measure on seal hunt violates its international obligations. Pleased with the (finding) Canadian sealers were wronged," she said.

"We expect (the) EU to comply with the decision while we continue to stand up for trade fairness."

WTO law is binding on all 159 member states, but they can break that law for a few reasons including public morals or human, animal and plant health. (Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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