WTO rules against U.S. dolphin safe tuna

Category: WTO Sub-category: Anti Dumping
Document type: news

23-May-2012 | 10:10 IST | Edited by: Sharmila Maitra

The World Trade Organization ruled on 16th May that the U.S. "dolphin-safe" label discriminates against Mexican tuna fleets that rely on controversial chasing-and-netting techniques that can harm and kill the marine mammals.

The decision is the second time in less than two months the WTO has found fault with U.S. consumer legislation, sparking some U.S. criticism that the WTO is interfering with U.S. law.

The spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, called the ruling a "mixed result" that did not necessarily mean the United States had to abandon the labeling program.

Moreover, it's not clear what the ruling will mean for the future of the voluntary dolphin-safe label, but environmentalists worried that the decision would realize their major fear that the United States would have to sacrifice an important environmental law in the name of free international trade.

The dispute centers on the technique of using dolphins to round up tuna, which the United States says disqualifies some Mexican tuna products from being "dolphin safe".

Mexico contends the methods its companies use to harvest tuna do not harm dolphins and the way the United States defines "dolphin safe" tuna unfairly restricts trade.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, dolphins and tuna often swim together in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean in closely packed schools.

The U.S. definition of dolphin safe tuna requires the fish are caught without using a huge net, known as a purse seine net, to encircle dolphins and that no dolphins are killed or seriously injured in the process.

The WTO's Appellate Body found the U.S. labeling rules were not even-handed and worked to the detriment of Mexican tuna products.

 If this decision is not implemented, Mexico has the right, according to the rules of the WTO, to enact commercial sanctions.

Earlier, Mexico complained about the U.S. rules in 2008, reviving a trade dispute that first erupted in 1991, and a WTO dispute panel ruled on the case in September 2011, triggering appeals from both the United States and Mexico.