World Trade Organization Tribunal Rules That ‘Dolphin Safe Tuna’ Labels Are Illegal

Friends of the Earth demands end to U.S. support of trade agreements that allow corporate-dominated tribunals to gut environmental protections

Washington D.C.—(ENEWSPF)—September 16, 2011.  A World Trade Organization tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland ruled yesterday, September 15, that the U.S. labeling system intended to prevent dolphins from being killed by commercial fishing nets violates international law protecting “free trade.”

For years, the United States has authorized the placement of “dolphin safe” labels on tuna packaging, so that consumers can be assured their tuna is not harvested using nets that kill dolphins by the multitude. Many Mexican commercial fishing operations refuse to abide by these “dolphin safe” practices. As a result, Mexico sued the United States, not in U.S. courts which have upheld the U.S. tuna labeling system, but before a corporate-dominated international tribunal. The tribunal decided that the U.S. labeling system, which does not ban tuna from Mexico, unnecessarily restricts international trade in violation of WTO law.

William Waren, trade policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, had the following statement:

“If this decision is allowed to stand, the U.S. will be forced to roll back its labeling system or face retaliatory sanctions such as higher tariffs that worsen unemployment. The U.S. may choose to appeal the decision, but why did the United States agree in the first place to an international trade pact that allows corporate-dominated tribunals to decide U.S. environmental policy?

“The U.S. dolphin safe labeling system helps consumers avoid goods produced using unsafe practices, which are employed by much of the Mexican tuna fishing fleet. Placing observers on ships, as is now the Mexican practice, is not an adequate safeguard. Mexican fishing ships find tuna by following dolphins that swim with tuna. The ships use dangerous purse seine nets that encircle both the dolphins and tuna. This can result in unobserved side effects such as severe stress on dolphins caused by repeated chase-downs, encirclement and entanglement in nets. Mothers and calves can be separated. Lactating females can be killed. This is not a trivial issue: the dolphins’ reproductive success and survival is threatened by these practices.

“This is not an isolated international trade ruling, and this is not an unusual problem resulting from international trade and investment agreements. The WTO pact, NAFTA and subsequent trade agreements are binding on the United States and contain many provisions that put the profits of multinational corporations ahead of the public interest and the environment. And now, the Obama administration is asking Congress to approve new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea — all of which would take power from American citizens and put it in the hands of multinational corporations instead. Congress must reject these anti-democratic, anti-environment trade agreements.”

Source: foe.org