Mexico Requests WTO Consultations with US in Ongoing Tuna Dispute
Mexico has filed a request for WTO consultations with the US over its refusal to allow the dolphin-safe label to be used on Mexican tuna products. In the request, filed on 24 October, Mexico claimed that the trade restrictions are illegal and discriminatory, and have resulted in a loss of more than a third of its tuna fleet due to its hampered ability to effectively market Mexican tuna in the US.
US law dictates that the 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 (IATTC), of which the US is a member. Furthermore, Mexico believes that the measures violate several WTO rules, including national treatment and most-favoured nation obligations, and create unnecessary obstacles to international trade.
This latest request revives a dispute dating from 1991, when Mexico first objected to the US embargo of Mexican tuna products under its Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). At the time, the MMPA prohibited the importation of tuna harvested with purse-seine nets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean unless US officials established that the government of the exporting country regulated the taking of marine mammals in a manner similar to that of the US, and that the rate of capture of marine mammals was comparable to that of US vessels. The embargo was also applied to intermediary countries that handled the tuna between its shipment from Mexico to the US, especially during processing and canning.
When Mexico first requested a panel under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in February 1991, the GATT ruled that while the US could not embargo Mexican tuna, it could, however, refuse to allow the application of the ‘dolphin-safe’ logo. The ruling on the dispute, which has become known as the ‘product’ versus ‘process’ issue, said that the US could only regulate the quality of imported products, and not the process used to create them. The labelling system, on the other hand, was judged to be a justifiable way to prevent deceptive advertising.
But unlike the WTO, the GATT did not automatically accept a panel report after 60 days. After bilateral consultations with the US, Mexico chose not to pursue the case and the report was neither adopted nor did it become legally binding. Despite negotiations, the US did not lift the embargo until 1997.
According to a Mexican trade official, Mexico has tried various approaches to resolving the issue, but has been unable to reach a satisfactory solution. If the matter is not resolved within 30 days, Mexico may request the establishment of an arbitration panel, the official said.
Add a comment
Enter your details and a comment below, then click Submit Comment. We’ll review and publish the best comments.