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U.S. Appeal in WTO Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling Dispute with Mexico

Today the United States is filing an appeal in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute with Mexico challenging the United States’ dolphin-safe labeling measures for tuna products sold in America. On September 15, 2011, a WTO Panel report in this dispute was released, which found that the objectives of the U.S. measures are legitimate; that the measures do not treat Mexico’s tuna products any less favorably than tuna products from the United States or other WTO Members; and that any adverse effects felt by Mexican tuna producers from the U.S. labeling requirements are the result of choices made by Mexico’s own fishing fleet and canners. However, the Panel also found the U.S. measures to be more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve the objectives of the measures. After careful review and consideration of the Panel report, the United States has decided to file an appeal today.

“Our dolphin-safe labeling measures for tuna products provide information for American consumers as they make food purchasing decisions for their families,” said Andrea Mead, Press Secretary for the United States Trade Representative. “Our decision to appeal the WTO ruling in this case demonstrates the commitment of the United States to our dolphin-safe labeling measures.”

Under the United States’ dolphin-safe labeling provisions, producers of tuna products – whether foreign or domestic – have the option of labeling tuna products that meet the standards of the U.S. provisions as dolphin safe. One such condition, challenged by Mexico, is that the label cannot be used if dolphins are purposefully chased and encircled in order to catch tuna. This fishing method is harmful to dolphins.

The U.S. dolphin-safe labeling provisions establish conditions under which tuna products may voluntarily be labeled “dolphin-safe.” Tuna products may not be labeled as “dolphin-safe” if the tuna in those products is caught by intentionally encircling (“setting on”) dolphins with purse seine nets. Some Mexican fishing vessels use this method when fishing for tuna. Mexico asserted that the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling provisions deny Mexican tuna effective access to the U.S. market.

In October 2008, Mexico filed a request for WTO dispute settlement consultations with the United States regarding U.S. provisions pertaining to the voluntary dolphin-safe labeling of tuna and tuna products. The United States subsequently invoked its NAFTA rights and requested that Mexico refrain from proceeding in the WTO and move the case to the NAFTA, as provided for in Article 2005 of the NAFTA. The NAFTA is the appropriate place to litigate such issues, however, Mexico has blocked that process for settling this dispute.

On April 20, 2009, a WTO Panel was established to consider Mexico’s claims. That Panel circulated its final report, mentioned above, to other WTO Members and the public in September 2011. The appeal filed by the United States today is the next step in the dispute settlement process.