Data loading...

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Blocks Mexican Complaint At WTO Over Tuna Labeling Rules

The U.S. last week blocked a request by Mexico for the World Trade Organization to decide whether labeling restrictions unfairly close the U.S. market to Mexican tuna in a case that pits environment against trade. Under the WTO’s dispute rules, the U.S. can’t block a second request by Mexico, which is likely to come next month. The European Union asked to join the consultations on Nov. 6 and Australia did the same the following day.

Mexico, which requested WTO consultations with the U.S. in October, says its tuna complies with international standards on reducing the accidental capture of dolphins. U.S. rules prevent Mexico from using the “dolphin-safe” label needed to sell tuna and tuna products in the U.S. even though Mexico says its tuna- fishing methods are “fully sustainable.”

“Mexican products are accorded treatment less favorable than like products of national origin and like products originating in any other country,” Mexico said in its Oct. 24 complaint. “The measures have the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to trade.”

The U.S. banned the sale of tuna that wasn’t considered “dolphin-safe” in 1994, a move that effectively barred imports from Mexico. While the ban was lifted in 1997 after Mexico brought its fishing practices in line with global standards, the Mexican governments says the labeling restrictions keep Mexican tuna from entering the U.S. market and have caused a third of the nation’s tuna fleet to disappear.

Mexico’s 2007 tuna production totaled 86,000 tons, according to the country’s Agriculture Ministry. The U.S. bought 4200 tons of tuna worth $14 million from Mexico last year, down almost 22 percent from 2007, according to the Commerce Department. Overall, U.S. tuna imports from all countries of the fish that year were 266,770 tons worth just over $1 billion.

Dolphin Safety

Dongwon Group’s U.S. seafood division StarKist, Centre Partners Management LLC’s Bumble Bee canned tuna brand and Thai Union Frozen Products Pcl’s Chicken of the Sea tuna unit haven’t purchase tuna that was caught in association with dolphins since 1990. Bumble Bee says on its Web site that its commitment to dolphin safety “will remain unchanged regardless of any changes to the dolphin-safe law.”

Mexican fleets still catch yellowfin tuna in parts of the eastern Pacific Ocean by chasing and encircling dolphins in nets because the two often swim together. That method breaches U.S. Commerce Department rules saying that for tuna to be labeled dolphin-safe, fishermen aren’t allowed to intentionally encircle or set nets on dolphins.

Under the WTO’s dispute rules, the U.S. can’t block a second request by Mexico, which is likely to come next month. The European Union asked to join the consultations on Nov. 6 and Australia did the same the following day.