GATT panel says U.S. can’t protect dolphins

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

On May 23, one week before the U.S.
Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibition on the
import of tuna netted “on dolphin” took full effect,
a General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs panel
ruled for the second time that the prohibition vio-
lates GATT because GATT does not allow trade
bans based on commodity production methods.
As in 1991, the U.S. ignored the GATT
ruling, bringing the ban on non-dolphin-safe tuna
into place as scheduled on June 1. The previous
ruling was brought on behalf of Mexico, which
did not seek enforcement to avoid jeopardizing the
North American Free Trade Agreement, then
before Congress for approval. The May 23 ruling
was brought on behalf of the European Union,
and was slightly more favorable than the 1991 rul-
ing in that it did recognize––in theory, if not in
practice––the legitimacy of national attempts to
mandate international environmental protection.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey
Kantor immediately blasted the verdict, pledging
to make public all documents in the case and press
for an open rehearing. “GATT procedures not
only denied us a fair hearing,” Kantor said, “but
they need to be totally revamped.”
Senate Environment and Public Works
committee chair Max Baucus (D-Montana) said the
decision “further reinforces the need to work
toward environmental reform in GATT.”
Jason Black, communications officer for
the World Society for the Protection of Animals,
warned that the tuna ruling is a dangerous prece-
dent. “The recent victory for animal protection
groups in the decision of the International
Standards Organization not to attach the label of
‘humane’ to trapped fur may be shortlived,” Black
said. “The decision not to label fur as being
‘humanely trapped’ will help to uphold the
European Union’s import ban on fur that is expect-
ed to take effect in 1995, but the import ban could
be viewed as a barrier to trade, and be challenged
as illegal under GATT.” Black pointed out that
GATT could also be used to challenge the EU ban
on the import of milk products produced with the
aid of bovine growth hormone. GATT implemen-
tation, said Black, “serves to reinforce the idea
that animal welfare is incompatible with interna-
tional trade.” The result, he predicted, would be
dimunition of animal protection laws worldwide to
meet GATT standards––and reluctance among leg-
islators to press for new protections for animals.
“As Congress prepares to decide whether
or not to approve the implementing legislation for
GATT,” Black emphasized, “it is vital that lan-
guage be inserted to ensure that U.S. conservation
and animal protection laws are not minimized.”
In yet another case where a favorable
ruling for animals could run afoul of GATT, Earth
Island Institute, the American SPCA, the Humane
Society of the U.S., the Sierra Club, and the
Georgia Fishermen’s Association together sued the
U.S. Departments of Trade and Commerce on June
7 “for permitting foreign commercial shrimp fleets
to routinely and brutally drown tens of thousands
of sea turtles each year in flagrant violation and
reckless disregard of federal laws,” according to
their suit synopsis. The case, the synopsis contin-
ued, “has the potential to result in the embargo of
shrimp imported into the U.S. from approximately
80 nations, valued at over $1.8 million, for failing
to require all commercial shrimp trawlers to use
turtle excluder devices.”
The plaintiffs estimate that nonuse of
TEDS kills 155,000 endangered turtles annually.
However, the requirement of TED use would also
be considered a “process standard” under the cur-
rent GATT definitions.
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