The move, backed by much of the European public and animal rights groups, was approved by 550 votes to 49 against at the parliament in Strasbourg. The ban will enter force for the next commercial seal hunt season in 2010, reports AFP today.
The decision to ban products derived from seal hunting, especially pelts, comes on the eve of a visit to Prague by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to launch free trade talks with the European Union.
The Canadian government maintains that the 350-year-old hunt is crucial for some 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for up to 35 percent of their total annual income.
Ottawa authorized the slaughter of 338,000 seals this year, insisting the hunt does not threaten the species. But a slump in pelt prices has meant fewer hunters on ice floes off Canada´s Atlantic coast.
Canada hopes that requiring training for sealers on how to humanely slaughter seals, legislating standards for seal products and taking measures to safeguard the species will silence critics of the hunt.
The EU is Canada´s second-largest trading partner.
"After many years of campaigning by European citizens I welcome the regulation which bans seal products from entering or being traded in the European Union," EU Environment Stavros Dimas said in a statement.
"By upholding the highest standards the new legislation addresses EU citizens´ concerns with regard to the cruel hunting methods of seals," he said.
The commission said the new measure, already endorsed by EU nations and the bloc´s executive body, would eliminate disparate national rules and consolidate the fragmented European market in seal products.
But it underlined it would allow trade in seal products derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and which contribute to their subsistence.
Canada and Norway, had already warned the EU they would take the 27-country bloc to the World Trade Organization if it moved to ban seal product imports.
The ban will apply to all products and processed goods derived from seals including their skins which are used to make fur coats, meat, oil blubber, organs and even omega 3 pills which are made from seal oil.
The new EU rule, however, will offer narrow exemptions to Inuit communities from Canada and Greenland and elsewhere to continue their traditional hunts but bars them from a large-scale trading of their pelts, and other seal goods in Europe. Another exemption will allow for non-commercial and ``small-scale´´ hunts to manage seal populations, however seal products derived from those hunts will not be allowed to enter the EU.
Inuit groups say such restrictions will spell disaster for their communities which rely heavily on seal hunts for their livelihoods.
Joshua Kango, who heads the Nunavut-based Amarok hunters and trappers association said the ban ``is definitely going to impact the lives of the Inuit in the very near future.´´ ``We don´t have any other way to survive economically,´´ he told The Associated Press.
Arlene McCarthy, who chairs the European Parliament´s internal market and consumer protection committee said Canada and others could not ignore the fact that a majority of Europeans are against the hunt and wanted it banned.
She added that concern took precedence over the concerns of sealers, fishermen and Inuit groups that carry out commercial hunts.
``While we of course have sympathy for those particular groups of people, the reality is that we sit here in the European Parliament and that millions of our citizens would like us to do the right thing and ban the cruel trade. They do not want to buy these products,´´ she said.
The legislators faced heavy lobbying in recent months from both animal rights groups and authorities from Canada and Greenland. Curbing the hunt of seals in Canada has been the focus of the bill because of the size of its annual cull and the way seals are killed.
Canada´s East Coast seal hunt is the largest of its kind in the world, with an average annual kill of about 300,000 harp seals. It exported around $5.5 million worth of seal products such as pelts, meat, and oils to the EU in 2006.
Animal rights groups believe the hunt is cruel, poorly monitored and provides little economic benefit once costs associated with policing and supporting the hunt are factored in. However, sealers and Canadian authorities say it is sustainable, humane and provides income for isolated fishing communities.
Seals are also hunted in Norway, Namibia, Sweden, Finland and Russia.