Mexico won a ruling this week in a long-running trade dispute with the United States over the labeling of tuna products.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the U.S. requirement that labels declare the tuna to be “dolphin-safe” is unfair to Mexican fishermen because “less favorable treatment” is given to Mexican tuna products because the rules set different requirements based on where a fish is caught.
The decision upholds a ruling made last April that found the rules discriminated against Mexico. WTO appeals judges said the U.S. had “not brought its dolphin-safe labeling regime for tuna products into conformity with the recommendations and rulings” of the trade organization.
The ruling is final and allows Mexico to seek compensation for losses to the fishing industry that are estimated to be in the millions, accrued over more than 20 years.
Until conservation measures were introduced, millions of dolphins used to be killed in the process of catching yellowfin tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean, where the two species swim together.
Mexican fishermen set their nets on dolphin schools in order to target the tuna, and then release the dolphin bycatch.
Mexico claims that its conservation efforts have reduced dolphin deaths to levels below thresholds allowed in the U.S. Two years ago it was reported that the bycatch had been reduced by more than 99%, bringing the total to about 1,000 dolphins a year.
Over several decades, from the 1950s on, dolphin deaths attributed to all fishing fleets were estimated at 150,000 a year.
The imported canned tuna market in the U.S., in which Mexico has about a 3.5% share, was estimated to be worth $680 million last year. Mexico argues that the labeling rules have frozen its fishing industry out of that market.
The Economy Secretariat said the ruling confirms once again Mexico’s position, that the labeling rules violate the United States’ international trade obligations, “discriminating unjustly against Mexico’s sustainable tuna fishery, without any scientific basis.”
The requirement also unjustly favored other tuna exporters who are not required to label their products with information regarding their fisheries’ effects on dolphins, the secretariat said.