WTO Rules Against Dolphin-Safe Tuna Label (Again)

On April 25, a World Trade Organization arbitrator ruled that Mexico can pursue retaliatory measures against the United States for the $163 million a year Mexico claims to lose because of US import restrictions on tuna not caught in accordance with US “Dolphin-Safe” standards. The Mexican government says it will retaliate by targeting US imports, which could include tariffs on goods.

Responding to an earlier WTO ruling in Mexico’s favor, the United States last year introduced a more even-handed approach to its scrutiny of tuna fishers’ compliance with the Dolphin-Safe label (including monitoring seas where other nations, not just Mexico, fish for tuna). Mexico, however, continues to insist that the Dolphin-Safe requirements discriminate against its fishers.

To sell tuna labeled as Dolphin-Safe into the lucrative American market, fishers must not have intentionally encircled dolphins with nets during the entire fishing trip in which that tuna was caught, or killed or injured dolphins when setting the tuna nets. Instead of agreeing to these restrictions to protect dolphins, since 2008 Mexico has pursued trade discrimination claims through the WTO.

Another WTO decision is due in July—on whether the changes in US monitoring practices have stopped the discrimination. The last chapter in this long-running dispute remains unwritten.