Mexico and the United States are once again at odds over tuna. The decades-long debate between Mexico and the United States was recently revisited when Mexico requested the establishment of a panel with the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). According to Mexico – despite previous WTO victories against the US and Mexico’s efforts to bring the dolphin kill rate to acceptable levels under US law – the United States continues to discriminate against tuna from fishermen south of the border. This round, Mexico claims it is being unfairly denied the US “Dolphin Safe” label for its canned tuna
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (the Act), passed by the United States in 1972, was designed to reduce the incidental killing of dolphins and other marine mammals by commercial fishermen. The Act triggered a 1990 US embargo of yellowfin tuna imported from Mexico, among other nations. This set off an unprecedented wave of international litigation, which resulted in several trips for the United States to the WTO. The US was typically the loser in these battles. Although the WTO does not deny a State the right to adopt environmentally friendly legislature, the legislation must be applied fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner.
Mexico has since implemented measures which it claims has reduced the dolphin mortality rate to almost zero. It claims that doing so has not only helped the dolphins, but also has resulted in a healthier tuna stock. The US disagrees. Much of the disagreement stems from the fact that dolphins swim with the tuna stocks in Mexico, as opposed to US fisheries, where the dolphins and tunas do not swim together. Environmentalists claim that Mexico continues to implement fishing practices which chase, harass, and kill more than a thousand dolphins per year.
In their most recent trip to the WTO, Mexico claimed that the US’s “Dolphin Safe” labeling requirements constituted a technical barrier to trade. While most of Mexico’s claims were rejected, the panel agreed that the labeling requirements were not the least restrictive means available. Since the decision, the US claims to have fully implemented the DSB’s recommendations and rulings. Mexico disagrees, however, and says that the new measures continue to discriminate against tuna caught in Mexico.
Will we have another full-on hearing by the WTO’s DSB? Do you think the United States is intentionally discriminating against Mexican-caught tuna? If so, is the motivation truly environmental or is there another reason for the discrimination?
Photo Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)