[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] WTO rules against "dolphin safe" tuna labels


(The Hill's "On The Money" blog. The original article is unclear about the reasons for the ruling.)

WTO rules against `dolphin safe' tuna labels
By Erik Wasson - 05/16/12 11:22 AM ET

The World Trade Organization's appeals court on Tuesday ruled against U.S. `dolphin safe' tuna labels, in a move that will likely enrage U.S. environmental activists.

The ruling could be one of the most controversial in years. The tuna dolphin case in the early 1990s sparked protests against the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

The WTO has found that the labels, imposed to cut back on the killing of dolphins, are a technical barrier to trade and discriminate against Mexico, which brought the case against the U.S.

It found that the standards for determining what tuna catching methods are actually better for dolphins.

The Appellate Body "was not persuaded that the risks to dolphins from other fishing techniques are insignificant and do not under some circumstances rise to the same level as the risks from setting on dolphins."

"In these circumstances, the Appellate Body found that the measure at issue is not even-handed in the manner in which it addresses the risks to dolphins arising from different fishing techniques in different areas of the ocean," it said.

The ruling could eventually allow Mexico to apply trade sanctions against the U.S. until `dolphin safe' labels are removed from cans in the U.S. The U.S. will have a period of time to try to comply with the exact terms of the ruling, possibly by altering criteria for what constitutes dolphin safe.

The Office of U.S. Trade Representative said that it is still studying the terms of the ruling.

"The U.S. remains committed to ensuring that consumers receive accurate information concerning whether the tuna in a product labeled "dolphin safe" was caught in a manner that caused harm to dolphins," spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon.

She pointed out that in a win for the U.S., the ruling did find that the labels were not "more trade restrictive than necessary."

WTO opponents seized on the ruling.

"Today's ruling makes very real the threats these overreaching pacts pose, which have little to do with traditional trade issues. The first round of this case in 1991 became known to environmental activists as `GATTzilla Kills Flipper' and ignited U.S. public opposition to what would become the WTO," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

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