BRUSSELS - European ambassadors approved a European Union plan to ban imports of furs and other products from culled seals on Friday, moving the 27-nation bloc one step closer to a trade clash with Norway and Canada.
Both seal-hunting nations have warned the EU in recent weeks that they could challenge the EU ban at the World Trade Organisation, the global trade watchdog, if it takes shape as currently foreseen.
Nothing should now stand in the way of this ban being adopted, said an official from the EU's Czech presidency, which brokered a deal this week that will exclude hunts by Inuits.
It needs to go before the European Parliament in May, but that should be a formality because parliament negotiators have already agreed to it informally, the official added.
Canada, Greenland and Namibia account for around 60 percent of the 900,000 seals hunted each year. The rest are killed in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere wrote to EU trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton this month arguing that the ban broke the principle of free trade and set a dangerous precedent on the harvesting of renewable resources.
An official said the Commission believed the plan was legally sound.
The 15 seal species now hunted are not endangered but European politicians demanded action after finding what they said was evidence that many are skinned while still conscious.
The animals are usually first shot or bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club known as a hakapik.
Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals last month, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a bloody industry.
A European Food Safety Authority report last year highlighted various causes of unnecessary suffering, such as trapping seals underwater where they drown.
It recommended that seals first be shot or clubbed and then monitored to check they are dead before being bled and skinned, to ensure they never regain consciousness during the process.