Just as Norway’s government is sparking anger in Brussels over its intention to boost important tariffs on meat and cheese, it’s also fighting a ban on the sale of its own seal products within the European Union. Norway is gearing up to defend the complaint it lodged with the World Trade Organization (WTO), part of ongoing efforts to set its own trade agenda.
The EU ban on imports of seal products poses no great economic threat to Norway, which is far wealthier than most EU countries not least because of its oil and gas resources. Fighting the ban is, rather, “a matter of principle,” Torgeir Larsen, state secretary in the foreign ministry, told newspaper Aftenposten last week.
Officials in EU countries, angry at Norway’s attempts to block imports of their own meat and cheese, might say the same. They contend the Norwegian government, which recently caved in to the demands of its farmer-friendly coalition partner, the Center Party, is violating the spirit of an agreement among European nations, including Norway, to gradually liberalize trade among members of the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The seal battle has gone on for years, with opponents upset over the apparent brutality of the seal hunt. The EU, however, accepts hunts “traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence.” The EU hasn’t banned seal hunting in Norway, it just doesn’t want to support any hunt that’s not vital to the country carrying it out.
Canada has also complained of unfair trade restrictions imposed on it by the EU trade ban, with Norway following. Aftenposten reported that Norway exported NOK 2.7 million worth of seal products to Canada. Some of the Inuit communities exempted by the EU ban are in Canada, but Canada as a whole felt compelled to challenge the ban along with Norway.
Norway is now preparing its legal case against the EU trade ban, which EU officials intend to vigorously defend. Larsen, of the Norwegian foreign ministry, told Aftenposten that Norway “is concerned with the sustainable harvesting of nature, and that the restrictions of imports should be scientifically grounded.”
Whether Norway’s intended restrictions on meat and cheese are “scientifically grounded” is another matter, it seems. The movement to ban the trade of seal products, meanwhile, seems to be gaining momentum, leaving Norway out in the cold.
“We think it’s shame that Norway has taken this case further (to the WTO),” EU trade spokesman John Clancy told Aftenposten. “The EU’s perspective is that the measures are in line with the WTO’s framework.”