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U.S. Requests Talks With Mexico Over Tuna Dispute

Date: 06-Nov-09
Country: US
Author: Roberta Rampton

U.S. Requests Talks With Mexico Over Tuna Dispute Photo: Paulo Whitaker
Tuna fish are displayed at main fish market in Sao Paulo, October 27, 2007.
Photo: Paulo Whitaker

WASHINGTON - The United States on Thursday sought formal talks with Mexico to settle a spat between the neighbors over which international body should hear a complaint about "dolphin-safe" tuna.

In March, Mexico filed a World Trade Organization complaint challenging U.S. labeling rules for tuna caught using methods less harmful to dolphins that swim near the fish.

The United States bars the "dolphin-safe" label on tuna caught by boats using purse seine nets that also snare dolphins -- a technique used by Mexican vessels, the U.S. Trade Representative's office said.

The USTR argues the dispute should be heard by a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panel instead of the WTO. It said it has now asked for formal consultations with Mexico on the issue.

The move came after Mexico asked the WTO to start the process of choosing panelists to hear its complaint against the United States.

For trade disputes involving conservation and environmental issues, the United States says NAFTA is the proper forum if the respondent requests it. This is the first such NAFTA venue challenge, the USTR said.

"We are enforcing the right that the United States, Canada and Mexico negotiated in the NAFTA," USTR spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh said in a statement.

"This is an important right that has not previously been invoked by a NAFTA party, and defending our right under this clause preserves and strengthens the NAFTA dispute settlement regime."

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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