THE seal saga has taken a surprise turn with Namibia joining Norway and Canada in its fight to lift the ban on importing seal products into the European Union (EU). This came shortly after Ombudsman John Walters released his report on the legality of the annual seal hunt in Namibia.
There are currently an estimated 1,2 million seals in Namibia (600 000 cows, 350 000 bulls and 254 000 pups) and Walters found that the harvest is sustainable and that the total allowable catch has been and still is rationally linked to the seal population.
More than 900 000 seals are hunted annually worldwide and the most significant hunts take place in Canada, Greenland and Namibia.
The EU decided in September 2009 to impose the ban on the importation and marketing of seal products.
The EU parliament deems the killing and practices surrounding sealing as inhumane under most circumstances and therefore bans trade in all seal products.
However, Norway and Canada felt that the ban violates the World Trade Organisation (WTO) law and a dispute was recorded.
Trade and Industry Minister Calle Schlettwein told The Namibian that Namibia decided to join the dispute and noted its concern over the distorted effect the seal regulation has on Namibian exports to the EU.
"We are of the opinion that the EU has taken a unilateral decision on the ban of seal imports. Therefore we have joined as a third party, but do not form part of the dispute, but still are supporting Norway and Canada in their fight to get the ban lifted."
According to Schlettwein the WTO provided Namibia with the services of a legal expert to assist in the matter.
"We have already filed our first written submission to the dispute settlement body of the WTO and during next month a session of all the third parties will be held. It is a matter of principle. How can the EU prescribe to us how we should utilise our natural resources? Canada, Norway and Namibia all argue that the European ban on seals place border restriction on trade through protectionist or discriminatory regulations."
He said one issue that most likely will come up in the dispute is whether it is actually less trade restrictive to just ban those products that do not live up to the process and production method requirement than imposing an across the board ban on seal products.
In the meantime Namibia continues with the seal hunting, setting an annual quota, and exporting the products to other countries than the EU.