WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The United States said
on Friday it was appealing a World Trade Organization ruling in
a dispute with Mexico over labels to assure consumers the tuna
they buy at the grocery store was not caught through methods
that hurt dolphins.
"Our dolphin-safe labeling measures for tuna products
provide information for American consumers as they make food
purchasing decisions for their families," Andrea Mead, a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative, said.
Mexico has complained for years that U.S. dolphin-safe rules
unfairly discriminate against its tuna exports and challenged
the labeling provisions at the WTO in 2008.
A WTO panel ruled in September that U.S. regulations did not
discriminate against Mexico, but said they were more restrictive
than they needed to be to meet the goals of informing consumers
and protecting dolphins.
Under the United States' dolphin-safe labeling provisions,
producers of tuna products - whether foreign or domestic - have
the option of labeling tuna products that meet the standards of
the U.S. provisions as dolphin safe, USTR said.
One such condition, challenged by Mexico, is that the label
cannot be used if dolphins are purposefully chased and encircled
in order to catch tuna. Some Mexican fishing vessels use this
method when fishing for tuna.
U.S. consumer rights group Public Citizen commended the
Obama administration for appealing the ruling.
It said the labels allow consumers to "vote with their
dollars" for dolphin-safe methods.
The United States has argued the matter should be addressed
through dispute settlement proceedings of the North American
Free Trade Agreement, rather than the WTO.
However, Mexico has preferred to go through the Geneva-based
world trade body.
If the United States loses the appeal, it could be required
to amend its dolphin-safe labelling laws or face possible
Mexican trade sanctions.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer)
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