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Mexico Back To WTO On “Tuna-Dolphin” Label Conflict With USA

A longstanding “tuna-dolphin” dispute between Mexico and the US is set to go another round at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Mexico City formally filed a request for the establishment of a “compliance panel” with the global trade arbiter, over the US’ dolphin-safe labelling program.

Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry vowed in July this year that it would fight the US’s new “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling rules at the WTO, arguing that they failed to address the issues raised by the WTO and continued to be unfair to Mexican fishermen. This further round of the long-standing fight between the two parties sees Mexico’s promise materialize.

In May of 2012, the WTO ruled that the US government had to change its legislation surrounding the dolphin safe labeling practices of its tuna fisheries which followed with an announcement from America of strengthened tuna fishing regulations.

In a statement, Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry said: “Mexico will take its case to the WTO, arguing that the Unites States has not met its international obligations. If the violation is confirmed, Mexico could impose trade reprisals against the United States.”

The changes that Washington made were developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and require captains to self-certify that “no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during fishing operations occurring outside the Eastern Tropical Ocean.” Previously, there were no requirements for any certification regarding harm to dolphins for tuna caught outside this region.

In the compliance panel request, dated 15 November, Mexico cites a series of areas where it alleges that the US has either failed to comply with the adverse WTO ruling or is otherwise in violation of trade rules. Mexican officials believe that the US continues to treat tuna products from Mexico “less favorably” than those from other countries.

Mark Robertson, who has worked with the Government and tuna industry on this matter for twenty years, confirmed: “Under WTO rules, the US will be able to block, on a one time basis, Mexico’s newest request under Article 21 of the WTO from being added to the Dispute Settlement Body’s agenda for the next meeting, scheduled for November 25th. If the US blocks, the matter will automatically go on the agenda for the next DSB meeting, scheduled for January.”