US Dolphin Safe-Labeling Requirements Found Compliant with WTO Rules
In Major Win, US Rights Vindicated After Years of Litigation with Mexico
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has issued a ruling that United States “dolphin-safe” labeling requirements comply with WTO rules.
For years, the US has been defending its dolphin-safe labeling requirements in WTO dispute proceedings brought by Mexico, whose stakeholders employ a tuna fishing method involving chasing and capturing dolphins in nets. The US has long argued that its requirements do not discriminate against any country.
The WTO panels rejected Mexico’s claim that the US discriminates against Mexican tuna produced by chasing and capturing dolphins. Instead, the panels found that the United States’ environmental measure does not discriminate; the labeling requirements prevent Mexican tuna product produced by chasing and capturing dolphins from being marketed to US consumers as “dolphin safe.”
“I am pleased that WTO panels have finally agreed with the overwhelming evidence that US dolphin-safe labeling requirements are accurate and fair,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Mexico has challenged the US dolphin-safe labeling requirements since 2008 as WTO-inconsistent because the requirements deny the label for tuna product produced by chasing and capturing dolphins. This is the fishing method that the Mexican fleet often elects to use to catch tuna. In the original proceeding and the first compliance proceeding in this dispute, the WTO panel and Appellate Body did not agree with Mexico that setting on dolphins is “dolphin safe” but found that certain aspects of the US labeling requirements were WTO-inconsistent.
Although US disagreed that its labeling requirements breached WTO rules, NOAA issued a rule in 2016 that made changes to address the WTO findings. The WTO findings confirm that the dolphin-safe labeling requirements as amended are consistent with relevant WTO obligations.