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WTO Rules Against Saving Dolphins

01 May 2017 | Sierra Club News Release

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized Mexico to impose an annual $163 million in trade sanctions against the U.S. for the dolphin-saving U.S. labeling program for tuna. The WTO ruled against the program in November 2015, calling it a “technical barrier to trade.”

The WTO is expected to further review the U.S. program this summer. If the WTO once again decides against the U.S., the U.S. could face trade sanctions indefinitely until the dolphin-saving label is altered or eliminated.

In response, Ben Beachy, senior policy advisor for the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, released the following statement:

“Today’s WTO decision threatens to punish U.S. families for the crime of having a label on tuna cans that saves dolphins’ lives. With renegotiation of NAFTA on the horizon, today’s decision serves as yet another warning that we need a complete replacement of these decades-old trade deals that prioritize corporate profits over good jobs, healthy communities, clean air and water, and protection for wildlife.

“The U.S. government should not cave to pressure from the WTO by weakening the dolphin-saving label.”


Background on the case: Tunas and dolphins can commonly be found together in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Taking advantage of this, fishing companies have set upon dolphins to catch tuna, often killing and injuring dolphins in the process. In 1990, the United States enacted a ban on imports of tuna caught with dolphin-unsafe practices and regulated “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling. The “dolphin-safe” label has contributed to a 97-percent reduction in dolphin deaths since the 1980s in Pacific waters where dolphins and tuna cohabitate. After Mexico launched trade challenges against the import ban, the U.S. Congress gutted the ban and made the “dolphin-safe” label voluntary. Mexico then launched a WTO case against the voluntary label in 2008. The WTO ruled against the U.S. label in 2011, 2012, and 2015. In November 2015, the WTO decided the label violated WTO rules, despite the fact that it protects wildlife, is voluntary, and applies equally to domestic and foreign firms.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.7 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit


Cindy Carr, (202) 495-3034 or

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