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The WTO and animal welfare-related trade restrictions

17 August 2014

Animal welfare concerns were raised at the International Meat Secretariat Veal Committee meeting in mid June 2014 over the possible implication for the international meat sector of the WTO Appellate Body ruling on the 2009 case brought by Canada over EU trade restrictions on the import of seal products. “According to Canada, the regulation in question prohibits the importation and the placing on the EC market of all seal products.”

Although the WTO panel found that the exceptions provided to allow imports of certain seal products were in violation of a number of WTO articles, the overall EU Seal Regime “does not violate Article 2.2 of the [Technical Barriers to Trade] Agreement because it fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective”.

However, the Appellate Body found that the EU “had not demonstrated that the EU Seal Regime meets the requirements of the chapeau of Article XX. Therefore, the Appellate Body concluded that the European Union had not justified the EU Seal Regime under Article XX of the GATT 1994”.

Senior scientist, Jacques Servière maintained on the INRA science news website that the WTO Appellate Body ruling means that the EU can “refuse to import products from seals because of the treatment of the animals”. This, he argued, created a precedent which could lead to trade in some meat products being challenged on animal welfare grounds in the future.

The implications of the WTO ruling need to be seen against a background of growing “public awareness of animal welfare issues in the production of meat”, arising from sustained public campaigning and lobbying by animal welfare campaigners. Mr Servière argued that in this context the international livestock sector needs to engage effectively on animal welfare issues. 

Editorial comment

ACP states exporting, or hoping to export, beef products to the EU could usefully seek clarification from the WTO Secretariat on the extent to which the WTO seal case ruling (Dispute DS400) sets a precedent for the application of trade restrictive measures in the meat sector, in response to moral concerns over animal welfare.

It should be noted that, for some ACP countries, the safety of meat products (and potentially animal welfare concerns) is not simply an issue in international trade but also an issue in domestic sales to the expanding tourism-related market. In future, therefore, the ability of ACP producers to get to grips with animal welfare matters could carry implications for ACP meat exporters as well as for access to certain high-value components of the domestic market.

In response to growing animal welfare concerns in OECD markets, existing ACP meat exporters, producing under extensive farming conditions, may find it an advantage to highlight the humane conditions under which animals are raised, transported and slaughtered.


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