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Jan. 3, 2003

"GATT-Zilla" Ate Flipper!

Bush Administration Implements Trade Ruling by Gutting Dolphin Protection Law and Allowing Imports of Dolphin-Deadly Tuna

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration sought to bury the news that it had weakened a long-standing, highly-effective U.S. dolphin protection law this week, but the real news is that the administration gutted the law to implement an order issued under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and enforced by the World Trade Organization, said Public Citizen.

"The 1991 GATT ruling that this U.S. environmental law was an illegal trade barrier that had to be eliminated started the outcry about GATT and WTO. Our government has persisted in telling us that these trade deals will not and cannot undermine domestic environment laws – but here is the smoking dolphin," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "With the weakening of this U.S. law, GATT-zilla just ate Flipper, sadly proving our point about the environmental threat of GATT-WTO one more time."

On New Year’s Eve, the Commerce Department quietly announced a change in the definition of the "dolphin safe" label that has been required on tuna sold in the United States since the late 1980s. That label, required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, indicated that no tuna were caught using encirclement nets that had killed millions of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The new definition means that encirclement nets can be used by fishing vessels if a single observer on a football field-length tuna trawler did not witness a dolphin death.

"Calling tuna caught using mile-long encirclement nets ‘dolphin safe’ is a consumer fraud and that fraud has been brought to you by global trade rules under which the United States was instructed to weaken its law," said Wallach.

The GATT, the predecessor organization of the WTO, ruled that the Marine Mammal Protection Act violates trade rules that say physically similar goods cannot be treated differently because of how they are produced or harvested. Many key environmental policies are based on such distinctions. Implementation of the original trade ruling was halted because it threatened to undermine passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and then later after Congress refused to change the law. In 1999, Mexico threatened action at the WTO to enforce the earlier ruling.

Polling has shown the American people adamantly oppose commercial fishing techniques that kill dolphins. The original Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed after school children threatened to boycott their school lunch tuna fish sandwiches and mailed millions of letters to Washington.

"Gutting a law protecting dolphins to satisfy the terms of a trade agreement under the orders of three unelected, unaccountable trade tribunalists in Geneva just adds to the opposition to pacts such as the WTO," Wallach said.

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