Public morals and freedom of choice

11 July of 2014 by

The World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Appellate Body has found that the EU ban on seal products is inconsistent with its international obligations, and was designed and applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiably discriminatory manner between countries where the same conditions prevail.

To summarise, the WTO Appellant Body was highly critical of both the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel and the EU – and said the EU seal ban was more restrictive than it needed to be.

The initial ban was proposed based on the undefined issue of ‘public moral concerns’ rather than on any hard facts or evidence and set a dangerous precedent. A recent survey commissioned by the Trade Fairness Coalition has highlighted how Europeans really feel about ‘public morality’ trade bans. It found that half (50 per cent) opposed trade bans based on moral grounds and only a third were in favour. In addition, a majority (57 per cent) saw that such bans could lead to trade restriction for other sectors of the economy.

This is also highlighted by a Dutch court in The Hague, who overturned the ban on mink farming in The Netherlands in 2024. The ban was passed by the Dutch Senate in December 2012, but the court declared the fur ban unconstitutional under the European Human Rights Convention.

It was based on the argument that fur is “an unnecessary luxury product”, but didn’t offer the Dutch fur farmers any compensation for taking away their livelihood. This was deemed contrary to the European Human Rights Convention.

The Dutch mink farming ruling also highlights just how important the fur trade is to the entire national economies of countries like Denmark and Greece; it’s not a niche industry but a $40bn global powerhouse. Moreover, its success in recent years has been because people have been able to choose for themselves whether or not they want to wear fur.

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WTO Appellate Body

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