An international trade panel, one assembled by the World Trade Organization at Canada’s request, concluded that “moral concerns” can effectively trump the otherwise established rule of global trade law.
Think about that for a minute. A panel of internationally esteemed judges assembled to adjudicate black letter international law — a set of trade rules affecting every one of the WTO’s 159 member nations — has concluded that the opinion a vocal opposition can effectively trump otherwise binding trade law. The fact that those same “binding” trade rules were ratified by the democratically elected governments of those suggesting to be so offended does not appear to factor into the judges’ decision.
This matter is no longer about seals. It’s about something much bigger. The whole concept of blind justice has been put on trial. For now, a decision must come from Canada about appealing this blatant hypocrisy. My first instinct is damn, yes! Fight it to the end, with every last breath, until we win.
But then I wonder, what could we ever practically achieve at the WTO? Would a successful appeal force the EU to restart trading in seal products? Would it guarantee that Canadian seal products would be back on European store shelves or that seal oil would be in their pharmacies or that seals could be shipped through their ports to other destinations without interference?
The straight answer is no, it wouldn’t. Even if the ridiculous “morals” argument were cast aside on appeal, under WTO rules the EU would only be required to pay a fine in an amount proportionate to the economic harm caused to Canada. There is no WTO remedy that forces the EU to ever import another seal product as long as they keep paying the fine. And, we’d have to file an appeal year after year, as there is no blanket application. That’s how the WTO works.
This surprising turn of events is precisely why the EU’s treatment of Canadian seal products should have been included in the Canada-EU free trade talks and not left to the WTO. It wasn’t. The timing of the WTO ruling with the conclusion of CETA talks shows how deeply our own government has let us down.
But this is now, and right now our government is left with the decision: spend millions of dollars on legal fees to impose a $500,000 annual fine on the EU (my estimate) knowing the ban will still continue, or fight this in a different way.
I suggest we consider not challenging the WTO ban. And here’s why.
While the EU parliamentarians and the champagne socialists are clinking their flutes over their victory, so are their allies: the IFAW, PETA and every animal rights group out there. Rest assured, however, the EU’s natural partners in the seal battle will soon become the EU’s own unwelcome house guests that are staying too long. Besides the seal hunt, PETA and the IFAW have sworn to putting an end to the entire slaughterhouse industry. For better or for worse, the new principle of “moral outrage” applies to all members in the WTO and to all industries, not just the sealing industry. This WTO ruling becomes an interesting precedent. Those who trade in British pigs, Scottish sheep, French chickens and German bull could soon learn that the moral outrage argument applies to them as well. Everyone in the global food and clothing industry is a little more vulnerable today from the WTO’s decision and the actions of the extremists. It’s no longer about just Canadian sealers.
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I suggest the last thing the EU is anticipating is for Canada not to appeal this ridiculous and politically misguided ruling. If the truth be known, cooler heads in Europe and in national capitals around the world are likely depending on us to appeal the moral outrage ruling so that (1) their domestic, political victory can still be theirs, but (2) the legal precedent of moral outrage as a legal way to shut down an industry is ultimately quashed. As long as there is an appeal underway, it’s not solid law. And as long as it’s rescinded in the end, it doesn’t take legal hold. An example of yet another two-faced, political victory for the EU’s parliamentary cowards.
But should Canada not appeal the decision, the EU and the entire international community would find themselves in the awkward situation of being forced to denounce the moral outrage principle or face the consequences of the precedent on their own industries. They would have to scramble to somehow make the case that trade law based on pop-culture opinion is a misguided concept and that the opinions of the ill-informed should not be allowed to destroy a legitimate industry, lest they be next.
This was not a sensible ruling at the WTO but it’s one we will never likely win in any practical sense. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to see the EU have to be the ones to make that case and then watch them drown in the backwash of popular opinion that would be stirred from inside their own borders for doing so?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it was them instead of us for a change? Lest they be next!
Gerry Byrne is the Liberal MP
for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte.