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Mexico Has High Expectations On US Tuna Dispute

The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body will consider a complaint from Mexico that US rules on ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna unfairly discriminate against its exports, according to an agenda for the 20 March meeting of the DSB that was released Tuesday. Mexico believes it has a 90 percent chance of winning its World Trade Organization (WTO) suit against the US over domestic tuna,  the Mexican news agency Notimex reported.A second round of talks between Mexican and US officials is set to take place on 17 March, stated the head of the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (CONAPESCA), Ramon Corral Avila.US law dictates that the ‘dolphin-safe’ label cannot be used on tuna caught in encircling, or ‘purse-seine’, nets, which often trap dolphins along with the fish. Mexico, however, contends that its fishing practices are fully sustainable and comply with the guidelines accepted by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, of which the US is a member.

A 2007 ruling by the US Court of Appeals banned the import of tuna carrying the seal of approval of the International Dolphin Conservation Programme (IDCP). The case was brought by a coalition of environmental group, which sued the Secretary of Commerce after he concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove that the use of purse seine nets, which are allowed by the IDCP, harmed depleted dolphin stocks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. The court ruled that this decision was ‘arbitrary and capricious’, and overturned it.

Mexico asserts that the US restrictions on tuna imports violate several WTO rules, including national treatment and most-favored nation obligations. The country also claims that the measures have forced more than a third of its tuna fleet to shut down.

“The greatest strength we have is our compliance with what had been agreed upon on safeguarding dolphins and improving our tuna fishing technology to the point that we have practically zero dolphin bycatch, as is stipulated by fisheries norms,” Ramon Corral Avila, the head of Mexico’s National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission told Notimex.

The tuna issue “is more a commercial problem than a biological one. It is a zero-tariff barrier where we have a free trade treaty,” he added.
The Mexican government says that the labeling restrictions imposed by the US practically exclude Mexican tuna from the US market, and have led to a paralysis of a third of the domestic tuna fleet.

The country needs to harvest between 140,000 and 150,000 tons to satisfy demand, but has only lately been able to harvest between 105,000 and 110,000 tons. Some 30,000 and 40,000 tons have been imported to cover the market deficit.
Last year Mexico had to import tuna to satisfy 25 per cent of its internal demand for the fish, said the head of CONAPESCA.The dispute dates back to 1991, when Mexico first objected to the US embargo of Mexican tuna products under its Marine Mammal Protection Act. The problem has continued for nearly 19 years despite the US finally lifting its embargo on Mexican tuna in 2000.

Mexican vessels landed 121,765 tons of tuna between 1 January and 1 February, Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) data indicates.

The Ecuadorian fishing fleet landed 10,912 tons in the same period while the Panamanian fleet landed 7,524 tons.