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U.S. Announces Compliance in World Trade Organization “Dolphin-Safe” Labeling Dispute

July 12, 2013


Washington, D.C. – United States Trade Representative Michael Froman announced today that the United States has fully implemented the recommendations and rulings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in a dispute brought by Mexico on the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling program. The United States informed the WTO of its compliance in a communication to be circulated to WTO Members.

“I am pleased to announce the United States has complied with the WTO’s findings in a way that enhances, and does not weaken, our ‘dolphin safe’ labeling program,” said Ambassador Froman. “The final rule published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) helps ensure that American consumers continue to receive accurate information regarding whether the tuna in a product labeled ‘dolphin safe’ was caught in a manner that caused harm to dolphins. These changes demonstrate that the United States can provide consumer information, protect dolphins, and avoid discrimination between WTO Members consistent with WTO rules.” 

In June 2012, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted findings by a WTO panel and the Appellate Body that the U.S. dolphin-safe labeling program was, in some respects, inconsistent with U.S. WTO obligations. In particular, the WTO adopted findings that the dolphin-safe labeling requirements were inconsistent with non-discrimination obligations to accord imported products treatment no less favorable than that accorded to like domestic products or products of other WTO Members. The WTO found that the dolphin-safe labeling requirements were not “even-handed” in the treatment of tuna harvested in different oceans. 

The amendments to the regulations address this concern by requiring as a new condition to use the label certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during fishing operations occurring outside the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP). These requirements already exist for fishing operations inside the ETP. Thus, the amendments to the regulations are even-handed and will contribute further to the protection of dolphins regardless of where they swim, bringing the dolphin-safe labeling requirements into compliance with U.S. WTO obligations. 

The period of time for the United States to comply with the WTO ruling expires on July 13, 2013, and the final rule by NOAA is effective on that date. NOAA’s final rule as published in the Federal Register may be found here.