WTO favors US in 'dolphin-safe' tuna dispute with Mexico

By PETER ORSIMarketsAssociated Press

The World Trade Organization issued a ruling Thursday favoring the United States in its long-running trade dispute with Mexico over U.S. "dolphin-safe" labeling rules for tuna.

The U.S. Trade Representative's Office hailed what it called a "complete and resounding victory" handed down by the Geneva-based trade body.

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"I am pleased that WTO panels have finally agreed with the overwhelming evidence that U.S. dolphin-safe labeling requirements are accurate and fair," Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

Mexico's Economy Department said the country disagrees with the ruling and will appeal.

The rules "have impeded the effective commercialization of Mexican tuna products in the U.S. market," the department said in a statement. "This, despite the fact that fishing methods utilized by the Mexican fleet comply with the highest international standards for the protection of dolphins."

The latest turn in the nearly decade-old fight comes as the United States and Mexico are engaged, with Canada, in contentious talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico has been challenging the labeling rules since 2008, arguing that they unfairly discriminate against its tuna industry. In past decisions the WTO has agreed and earlier this year said Mexico could seek hundreds of millions of dollars in retaliatory measures. So far Mexico has not done so, according to the Trade Representative's Office.

Thursday's ruling found that changes to the rules made last year by the United States bring them into WTO compliance.

"The Panels found that the distinctions made by the 2016 Tuna Measure between setting on dolphins and the other tuna fishing methods stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions," the WTO said in a report posted on its website.

"Consequently, they found that the Measure accords to Mexican tuna products treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like products from the United States and other countries, and is therefore consistent with the requirements set forth in" an international treaty on technical barriers to trade, it said.