Seals are typically hunted by bludgeoning the victims to death so as to preserve their skin intact. This strikes many as inhumane. And while some inhumane animal practices—like the standard way of raising cows and steers for beef and dairy purposes—lead to products that the majority of people enjoy, there aren’t that many of us that rely on seal products in our daily lives. Consequently, the European Parliament voted last week in favor of a ban on the import of seal products. It’s a move being hailed by animal rights groups, but Canada, the world’s largest seal exporter, is threatening WTO action against the EU.
The merits of this particular case aside, I think Henry Farrell is right to say that a win for Canada would probably spell big trouble for WTO fans. When foes of trade liberalization are able to make adorable baby seals the face of their cause, it’s hard to oppose them. This makes me wonder why the seal issue is being handled as a trade policy matter in the first place. In other words, why ban the import of seal products rather than simply ban selling seal products? Clearly the EU’s concern here is with the existence of a commercial market for dead seals rather than with the transnational flow of seals per se.