A trade embargo is a law or policy a state initiates which prohibits or
otherwise restricts the importation/exportation of goods. Trade embargoes
are typically motivated by political, economic, moral, or environmental
reasons, and used as a form of protest against another country's practices.
We are primarily concerned here with the controversies surrounding trade
embargoes the United States has issued on certain products exported by
other countries, but see in this issue broader implications concerning
free trade and its effects on the sovereignty of a nation.
The United States has a number of trade embargoes on products produced
by other countries but we will focus specifically on the issues surrounding
the US embargo on the importation of seal products from Norway. The United
States' Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the importation of harp-seal
(and all marine mammal) products. The United States' position is primarily
founded upon worries concerning inhumane killing methods and environmental
Seal hunting and the selling of various seal products is a multi-million
dollar industry in Norway. Norway's complaint is that the United States'
Marine Mammal Protection Act is in conflict with rules and guidelines set
down by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and that therefore the embargo should be lifted
and trade allowed. The purpose of the WTO and GATT is to facilitate free
trade between member nations but they have no executive power, they simply
pass resolutions "suggesting" that countries do what they say. The WTO
and GATT both ruled that the United States' trade embargo on harp-seal
furs violates terms agreed to by nations belonging to WTO and GATT and
called for the lifting of the embargo.
Norway's Position (supported by WTO and GATT)
Although Norway agrees that embargoes should be established prohibiting
the trade of endangered species, they are quick to point out that the harp-seal
is not an endangered species. In fact the population is booming and is
giving serious competition to the local fisheries. Norwegians argue that
since the species in question is not endangered, the United States' must
object to the trade of harp seal products on moral grounds. They argue
further that if the United States is prohibiting the importation of seal
products because of their moral preference, then they are effectively forcing
their moral priorities upon Norway and this is unacceptable. One may
not see how the decision not to purchase a certain product from another
country constitutes the imposing of moral priorities, but in light of the
United States' unique power and role in the world's economy, such actions
do effectively force compliance. The Norwegians also state, formally, that
the seal industry is highly
regulated and humane. Seal hunters must undergo training and marksmanship
classes and inspectors are stationed on every hunting vessel. So ultimately,
they argue that the United States' moral objections are unfounded.
In light of this reasoning the WTO and GATT
ruled that the United States was in violation of the rules and guidelines
governing these two respective organizations to which the United States
is a party.
The Case for the U.S.
The United States' decision to enact the Marine Mammal Protection Act is
rooted in environmentalist, animal rights activist, and conservationist
ideology. The United States, in order to protect marine mammals from extinction
and inhumane treatment adopted this act which among other things prohibits
harp seal trade with Norway.
Pictures, video, and other documentation is available illustrating the
treatment accorded hunted seals. They are allegedly not killed quickly
and often skinned while still alive. Odd
F. Lindberg, a Royal Norwegian Sealing Inspector, testifies that the
seals suffer greatly and that the hunting is cruel. on vessels that he
inspected, regulations were routinely being violated, and hunting statistics
were altered to hide the truth. So, apparently the seal hunt is inhumane
and Americans do have a foundation for their moral objection to the harvesting
of harp seals.
The GATT does contain exceptions to its free trade policy which state
that embargoes could be put into place in order to uphold public morals.
Such a clause might justify American refusal to lift the trade embargo
on harp seals.
Despite the clause in the GATT which allows for a nation to uphold their
public morals by issuing trade embargoes, GATT and the WTO still found
the United States in violation of the rules and guideline governing the
two trade organizations and called for the United States to lift the embargo.
Many questions now arise. What of the American moral priority to save the
harp seal from inhumane treatment? Are Americans just supposed to forget
it and assimilate the callousness of the Norwegians? What of the sovereignty
of the United States? Should a nation have ultimate control over what comes
into and goes out of its borders? What right does a foreign country have
to tell another country what they must allow to be imported? Is the loss
of a nation's sovereignty a necessary result of international free trade?
What are the environmental consequences of opening the world to free trade?
If a country is not allowed to prohibit the products which enter it, by
what other means can a country protest the exploitation of a natural resource?
People to Write to With Your Opinion
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20508
California Senator Feinstein
California Senator Boxer
California 47th District
Representative Chris Cox
To protest cruel treatment of seals click
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