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Mexico And USA Meet On Dolphin - Tuna Trade Conflict

The tuna dispute, which remains without a full solution since it started 19 years ago by a judge in San Francisco, returned to the radar on the agenda of unresolved problems between Mexico and United States, following the Mexican complaint before the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Government representatives from both Mexico as well as the USA have been negotiating the past few days to ensure that the dispute is brought before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)   instead of the WTO.

The initial request was filed by Mexico to the WTO under the administration of former President George W. Bush, last October. However, it was only recently that Washington requested Mexico’s to transfer the issue from a multilateral (WTO) to a bilateral (NAFTA) perspective.

White House trade representative Ron Kirk said recently that the tuna issue raised by Mexico to the WTO “should be clearly resolved in the context of NAFTA and its dispute resolution mechanism”.

Kirk, who announced last week a complaint with the WTO against China for alleged restrictions on exports of raw materials, denied that there is a double standard in seeking to resolve the dispute with China in the WTO, while that of Mexico before the NAFTA.

However, several countries joined the process initiated by Mexico at the WTO in Geneva, which is seen as confirmation of the multilateral nature of the tuna issue.

Even though the U.S. embargo on Mexican tuna -initiated in 1991- was suspended in 1997, the U.S. regulation supporting imports of tuna with the “Dolphin Safe” label prevents the full commercialization of the product in US.

The label is statutory since 1990. However, since the past decade Mexico implemented an international tuna and dolphin conservation program, which has reduced the killing of this species at “biologically insignificant” levels according to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

In contrast, alternative methods of tuna fishing known as Fishing Aggregating Devices (FADS) has been identified as the reason for the collateral death of other marine species, according to environmental groups.

Despite the requests, so far the Mexican government has shown no sign of intending to withdraw their complaint before the WTO and move it to NAFTA.