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News > U.S.

WTO Favors US in Tuna Labeling Dispute with Mexico

  • A worker checks the quality of Mexican tuna displayed at a fish market in Mexico City, Mexico, May 18, 2017.

    A worker checks the quality of Mexican tuna displayed at a fish market in Mexico City, Mexico, May 18, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 December 2018

The World Trade Organization dismissed Mexico's argument that U.S. labeling rules are unfair and biased.

The United States was finally able to impose its trade criteria Friday at the World Trade Organization (WTO) after appeals judges dismissed Mexico's argument that United States labeling rules violate multilateral standards.

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More than 10 years after the dispute first came to the WTO, in October 2008, the resolution put an end to Mexico's claim that U.S. labeling rules unfairly penalized its fishing industry.

Although Mexico has reduced the dolphin deaths to minimum levels, it is being discriminated against by U.S. demands for paperwork. The capture of tuna in other regions does not face the same strict tests, the Latin American country argued.

"Bad news: Mexico lost the dispute it has been fighting since 2008 against U.S. dolphin-safe labeling. It lost its last resort at the WTO and Mexico will continue without access to the tuna can market despite its tuna vessels proved sustainable fishing practices."

Mexico's Undersecretary of Foreign Trade, Luz Maria De La Mora, said that her country will now seek to reach other markets while trying to reestablish a dialogue with the U.S.

"The industry will have to decide if it is convenient to make a modification to their fishing method. I really do not believe it because it is a sustainable, responsible fishing method," De La Mora said.

The dispute centered on U.S. refusal to grant a "dolphin-safe" label to tuna products caught by chasing and encircling dolphins with a purse seine net in order to catch the tuna swimming beneath them. The WTO found that "setting on" dolphins with a purse seine net was likely to kill or injure them, even if there was no observable evidence of such deaths and injuries.

The U.S. lost the first round of this legal battle in 2013. As a result, in April 2017, Mexico won the right to impose US$163 million in annual trade sanctions if the WTO ruled that U.S. labeling norms were not in line with multilateral standards.

Mexico had planned to impose those sanctions on U.S. high-fructose corn syrup. Six months later, however, the WTO asserted that U.S. labeling rules complied with multilateral norms.

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