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WTO Ruling Against Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling Rules Could Lead to Sanctions

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The World Trade Organization ruled April 14 that revised U.S. regulations on dolphin-safe tuna labeling are still not in compliance with WTO rules. The U.S. reportedly plans to appeal the decision, which if upheld could open the way for Mexico to impose retaliatory sanctions such as higher tariffs on imports of U.S. goods.

The U.S. amended its regulations for labeling imported tuna as dolphin-safe in July 2013 in response to an earlier adverse WTO decision. This rule requires a certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during any tuna fishing operations, not just those that take place within the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It also changed storage requirements related to dolphin-safe and non-dolphin-safe tuna on board fishing vessels, created new requirements for processors other than canners of tuna product labeled dolphin-safe, and modified the reporting requirements associated with tracking domestic tuna canning and processing operations.

Mexico, which has been seeking to weaken the dolphin-safe tuna regulations for years, objected to the new stricter standards and took the issue back to the WTO. According to press reports, the WTO ruled this week that the revised rules are applied “in a manner that constitutes unjustifiable and arbitrary discrimination” against Mexico and unfairly restricts trade.

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