European Union trapped fur import ban still uncertain

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

BRUSSELS––Just a week from the
twice deferred January 1 target date for
enforcing a European Union ban on imports
of fur from animals possibly caught by
leghold trapping, “the issue of whether or not
it will be implemented is still very much up
in the air,” Animal Welfare Institute executive
director Kathy Liss told ANIMAL PEOPLE
at deadline.
The politics of the ban were never
fiercer. The step-by-step procedure to either
enforce or scrap the ban started with the presentation
in September of draft international
trapping standards, prepared by a quadrilateral
committee including delegations from
Canada, Russia, the U.S., and the European
Union. Next was to come approval or rejection
of the draft standards by the European
Commission, followed by ratification or
rejection of the decision by the appropriate
European Council of Ministers––a critical
fork, Liss said, since “The Council of
Environment Ministers has been pretty favorable
toward the ban, but the Council of
Trade Ministers is just interested in the trade

The quadrilateral committee was
composed largely of trappers. As expected,
on September 11 it proposed a trapping standard
that would essentially preserve the status
quo for at least 15 years. Canada, Russia,
and the European Commission delegation led
by Sir Leon Brittan endorsed it as written,
but the U.S., reported International Fund for
Animal Welfare director of European Affairs
Stanley P. Johnson, “has insisted it will not
agree to it without a safeguard clause which
states that if traps don’t meet the standard
[even after 15 years], they may go on being
used anyway ‘while research continues to
identify replacement traps.’”
GATT stick-up
The U.S. has threatened to protest
any enforcement of a EU fur import ban to
the World Trade Organization, as a purported
violation of the General Agreement on
Trade and Tariffs. GATT stipulates that
trade barriers must be based on actual product
attributes, not on “process standards” applied
to the manufacturing method, which historically
have often been invoked to protect the
traditional industries of one nation against the
improved production capacities of others.
The European Commission was
next in line to act, but on December 9, nine
days before the EC voted on the draft standards,
the Council of Environment Ministers
issued a joint statement approved by all members
but Italy, and according to Johnson,
Italy’s dessent was only “because it was
against a n y further delay in implementing”
the fur import ban, whereas the other members
accepted some delay as inevitable.
“The Council took note of a report
from the Commission on the state of negotiations
toward the establishment of agreed
humane trapping standards,” the statement
opened. “The Council noted with concern
that as it stands, the agreement would allow
some forms of leghold traps to continue to be
used. The Council requested the Commission
to reopen negotiations with third countries,
with a view to achieving a more satisfactory
agreement. The Council awaits the presentation
by the Commission of proposals for a
decision in relation to this matter, which
should be submitted in time for decision by
the next Environmental Council.”
Translation: tell the U.S. to butt
out, and invoke the ban now.
Passing the buck
On December 18, however, the
European Commission “decided virtually to
ignore or to repudiate the outcome of the
Environment Ministers meeting,” Johnson
said. “No steps were taken to provide for the
implementation of the fur import ban as
requested by the Council. The Commission
appears to have endorsed the agreement
reached ad referendum among the
Commission, Canada, and Russia. Sir Leon
Brittan was given until the end of January
1997 to negotiate further with the U.S.,” an
apparent attempt to further forestall both the
ban and the expected U.S. appeal.
The situation took a further twist a
day later, Johnson advised, just as A N IMAL
PEOPLE went to press. “The
Commission at very short notice summoned a
meeting of the Management Committee of
the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species,” he said, “and presented
it with the ‘positive list’ of countries
where the fur import ban would not apply,
Canada and Russia being included. If the
Committee had approved the Commission’s
proposal with a qualified majority, the
Commission would have been able to adopt it
However, Johnson continued, “A
vote was not taken. The United Kingdom
indicated that had a vote been taken, it would
have voted against. France, Italy, Austria,
Sweden, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark,
and Germany indicated that they were not in
a position to vote, having been notified of
the meeting too late––though Germany,
apparently like the U.K., made negative
noises. Ireland and Belgium did not speak.
Greece, Portugal, The Netherlands, and
Finland were not present. It was agreed that
the vote would now be taken by the so-called
written procedure, with member states indicating
their position on the Commission’s
proposed list of exempted countries within 21
days, or around mid-January 1997.”

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