EU takes on wild fur trade

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The Independent Online
Imports of wild fur from the US, worth pounds 16 million a year, are to be banned from the European Union in December unless a long-running dispute between Washington and Brussels on trapping methods is settled.

Fur from beavers, otters, coyotes, wolves, lynxes, bobcats, raccoon, muskrats, fishers, badgers, martens and ermine - a quarter of the EU trade - would be affected, the European Commission said last week.

Brussels wants US hunters to abandon the use of naked steel leghold traps which have been condemned by the RSPCA as "an indiscriminatorily cruel way to catch animals for fur".

A US spokeswoman in Brussels said there were difficulties because trapping rules were decided by state laws, not federal ones.

The looming ban is worrying UK fur traders, who handle 50-60 per cent of the world's skins and pelts. A spokeswoman for the British Fur Education Council said: "London's pre-eminent position in this world market depends on its ability to trade in the whole range of fur worldwide."

The EU has been threatening to impose a ban since 1991 on countries which do not phase out these traps. Earlier this year Canada and Russia, the world's other main producers, said they would. But no such agreement has been reached with Washington, which means that the US has been excluded from a list of countries permitted to import wild fur into the EU. It comes into effect on December 3.

The RSPCA is still unhappy with the agreement reached with Canada and Russia because it permits the use of padded leghold traps that can take five minutes to kill.

There is some concern in Brussels that the Americans might challenge the ban at the World Trade Organisation, the guardian of the Gatt treaty on free trade, saying the ban would break international law.

But a senior European Commission official said: "The fact that we have struck a deal with Canada and Russia would severely weaken their case."