WTO Rules Against Dolphin Safe Tuna Label

Cross Posted from Economy in Crisis

A World Trade Organization panel ruled this week that U.S. “dolphin safe” labels on tuna products were overly burdensome and restrictive to trade.

The ruling stems from a 2009 challenge to the labeling requirements by the government of Mexico.

Since 1991, the U.S. has refused to accept imports of yellow-finned tuna from Mexican fishers. The U.S. alleges that Mexico does not follow the strict standards that allow it to receive the “dolphin safe” label common in the U.S.

Mexico, however, claimed that their standards may not meet those of the U.S.. but that they are in line with international standards.

A WTO trade dispute panel seemed to agree. The decision could force the U.S. to drop the ban, although the issue will likely proceed to the appeals process.

“The WTO ruling is a crushing blow to the label ‘dolphin safe’ and opens the way for Mexican producers to enter the U.S. market without restrictions, as is their right,” Mexican Economy Secretary Bruno Ferrari said.

“Should the U.S. appeal, the final result would be released late in the first quarter of 2012. If such an appeal is again unfavorable and the country chooses not to abide by an adverse ruling, Mexico would have the right, under the rules of the organization, to impose trade retaliation.”

Some lawmakers fear that the decision could put other U.S. food labeling requirements in jeopardy. Mexico and Canada are currently challenging America’s country-of-origin labeling laws.

The rules were passed into law in 2002, but did not go into full effect until 2008. The new law requires labeling on raw beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, whole ginseng, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

Both of America’s North American neighbors are claiming that the labeling requirements are unfair trade barriers that impose increased costs on their food exports. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association last June claimed that the law has cost the sector $400 million, or $90 per head of cattle. In December 2008, Mexico suspended purchases of U.S. meat products from 30 American plants operating in 14 different states as a retaliatory measure.

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