Dolphin-Tuna: The Debate Rages On

Mexico and the United States are once again at odds over tuna.  The decades-long debate between Mexico and the United States was recently revisited when Mexico requested the establishment of a panel with the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  According to Mexico – despite previous WTO victories against the US and Mexico’s efforts to bring the dolphin kill rate to acceptable levels under US law – the United States continues to discriminate against tuna from fishermen south of the border.  This round, Mexico claims it is being unfairly denied the US “Dolphin Safe” label for its canned tuna

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (the Act), passed by the United States in 1972, was designed to reduce the incidental killing of dolphins and other marine mammals by commercial fishermen.  The Act triggered a 1990 US embargo of yellowfin tuna imported from Mexico, among other nations.  This set off an unprecedented wave of international litigation, which resulted in several trips for the United States to the WTO. The US was typically the loser in these battles.  Although the WTO does not deny a State the right to adopt environmentally friendly legislature, the legislation must be applied fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner.

Mexico has since implemented measures which it claims has reduced the dolphin mortality rate to almost zero.  It claims that doing so has not only helped the dolphins, but also has resulted in a healthier tuna stock.  The US disagrees.  Much of the disagreement stems from the fact that dolphins swim with the tuna stocks in Mexico, as opposed to US fisheries, where the dolphins and tunas do not swim together.  Environmentalists claim that Mexico continues to implement fishing practices which chase, harass, and kill more than a thousand dolphins per year.

In their most recent trip to the WTO, Mexico claimed that the US’s  “Dolphin Safe” labeling requirements constituted a technical barrier to trade.  While most of Mexico’s claims were rejected, the panel agreed that the labeling requirements were not the least restrictive means available.  Since the decision, the US claims to have fully implemented the DSB’s recommendations and rulings.  Mexico disagrees, however, and says that the new measures continue to discriminate against tuna caught in Mexico.

Will we have another full-on hearing by the WTO’s DSB?  Do you think the United States is intentionally discriminating against Mexican-caught tuna?  If so, is the motivation truly environmental or is there another reason for the discrimination?

Sources:  The World Trade Organization, World Trade Institute

Photo Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


  1. I do not believe that the United States is specifically discriminating against Mexico. From the facts, it seems that Mexico is not changing their ways with regards to tuna fishing, even though dolphins swim together with the Tuna. It is different in the United States because since tuna and dolphins do not swim together in the fisheries. Unless there is some underlying reason that is unknown at this current time, I don’t see any reason why the United States would want to discriminate against Mexico regarding tuna. The United States and Mexico have a very friendly relationship, especially with regards to trading. Both countries have benefited over the years with having each o0ther as trade partners.
    I think the United States is more concerned about the dolphin population than Mexico. Environmental laws are more stringent in the United States than Mexico, and I think this movement is more of a reflection of that. Further, environmentalists have claimed that Mexico takes part in activities that are still kill dolphins. This also points to the fact that there is no discrimination on the part of the United States.

  2. While I see no reason the United States would discriminate against Mexico and its tuna fishing practices, I also believe they should investigate the matter further. If the U.S does in fact believe there is something “fishy: with Mexico’s practices then they should go investigate the matter firsthand. Since Mexico argues that is abiding by the law, I see no reason why they would object to the U.S coming to investigate and seeing for themselves whether something is wrong or not. When it comes to matters such as preserving wildlife, I think the way to go is to better to be safe than sorry. As a result, if the U.S does in fact suspect that Mexico implements methods that lead to the killing of a thousand dolphins a year then they have a very legitimate reason for their behavior. If the dolphin safe label was passed out easier or had less restrictive means I do not think it would serve its purpose of protecting the dolphins.

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