World Trade Organization Sides with Mexico Over US on Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling

The WTO has found that US opposition to Mexico’s method of catching tuna is discriminatory

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The US has promised to appeal the ruling. 

The World Trade Organization has sided with Mexico in a debate over the United States’ guidelines for dolphin-safe tuna, which disqualifies Mexican tuna from bearing the label. According to Reuters, the WTO found that U.S. labels “run counter to international trade laws,” and are discriminatory toward Mexico.

"We recommend that the dispute settlement body request the United States bring its measure, which we have found to be inconsistent with [the WTO rules]... into conformity with its obligations," the WTO panel said.

The issue at hand began when, before intervention from conservationists, Mexican fleets used speedboats to herd dolphins and large purse seine nets to catch the tuna swimming beneath them. At the time, without sustainability standards, millions of dolphins were killed in the process.

However, even after Mexico agreed to minimize the number of dolphin deaths in its tuna-catching methods, the United States argued for the right to disqualify tuna caught in the seine nets.

The U.S. definition of dolphin-safe tuna, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mandates that “no tuna were caught on the trip in which such tuna were harvested using a purse seine net intentionally deployed on or to encircle dolphins, and that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna were caught.”

Mexico has long contended that the labeling discrimination has kept the country out of the lucrative market for imported canned tuna, which, according to Reuters, was worth approximately $680 million in 2014. Meanwhile, conservationists who continue to oppose Mexico’s methods described the WTO decision as favoring trade over the environment.

The United States has already promised to appeal the decision, a move the Mexican economy ministry has warned could result in measures against the United States, including opposition against U.S. exports.

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