Mexico-US tuna label feud returns to WTO

25th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

The United States on Monday blocked a new attempt by Mexico to get the WTO to solve a dispute over "dolphin friendly" labels which allegedly hit Mexican-caught tuna.

Trade sources said that Washington's delegation rejected a call by Mexico for a World Trade Organization panel to rule on whether the US legislation breaks global trade rules.

Tuna sold in the United States must carry a dolphin-safe stamp, which Mexico argued successfully last year was an illegal means to keep out imports.

Mexico now faults the modifications to previous US legislation on the importation, marketing and sale of tuna and tuna products, arguing that Washington has failed to fall into line with a May 2012 WTO ruling.

The United States argues that it has done what it was required to comply with last year's decision.

Washington and Mexico City have been wrangling for several years over the tuna-labelling issue at the WTO, which polices respect for global trade rules in an effort to offer its 159 member economies a level playing field.

The United States won an initial bout, but that victory was overturned on appeal last year, with the WTO's dispute settlement panel of independent trade experts finding that the labelling rules afforded less favourable treatment to Mexican-caught tuna.

The main problem, the WTO said, was that the US measures were not even-handed in the way in which they address the risks to dolphins arising from different fishing techniques in different areas of the ocean.

The stakes are high because the tuna trade with the United is worth billions of dollars, according to Mexican officials.

Under WTO regulations, members have one shot at stopping a dispute settlement process in its tracks.

But Mexico has the option of making a second request, which under WTO rules cannot be blocked by the United States.

Disputes at the WTO are often highly complex and technical, and can last for several years amid appeals and assessments of compliance with its rulings.

In the event that the WTO's disputes settlement body finds in favour of a plaintiff, it has the power to authorise retaliatory trade measures against a country if it fails to fall into line.

© 2013 AFP

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