Tuna Case Shows Everything You Need To Know About “Trade” Agreements

Dave Johnson

The World Trade Organization ruled this week that the United States is not being fair to Mexican seafood companies by denying “dolphin safe” labels on their tuna, meaning that American citizens won’t know whether they are buying tuna that is caught in a way that we deem would protect dolphins.

Let that sink in. A foreign trade court has prohibited the United States from letting citizens know what is or is not in a product. This non-U.S. “court” is nullifying our federal Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act.

The Hill explains, in “WTO sides with Mexico in ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna dispute“:

On Tuesday, WTO said stricter rules for companies that want to sell their tuna as “dolphin safe” discriminate against Mexican tuna products and fail to bring the U.S. into compliance with its obligations under the WTO agreement.

The U.S. and Mexico have been arguing for years over the different fishing methods used by tuna industries in the two nations. Mexico fisheries use the “chase and encircle” practice that involves tracking dolphins since they generally swim above large schools of yellow fin tuna.

The fish are then corralled by giant nets designed to allow the dolphins, which swim closer to the surface of the ocean, to “spill” out the top and swim free.

Corporate Courts: A Special Enforcement Channel For Corporations. Nothing For Labor, Environment, Etc.

This ruling prohibiting our country from withholding the “dolphin safe” label from certain tuna cans is an example of the way trade agreements can override national sovereignty with special “corporate courts.” The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in these agreements set up special corporate courts, outside of the courts of any country.

These ISDS “corporate courts” give corporations special channels to go to when they have a beef with the laws or regulations of a country. They can get action when they want it.

Meanwhile labor groups, environmental groups and other “stakeholders” do not get a special enforcement channel. They can not get action when they need it to protect labor, environment, consumer, LGBT, health, human rights or other “stakeholder” standards that might be in an agreement.

Trade agreements might have flowery language for labor and environmental standards, but it doesn’t matter if the standards are not enforced. For example, the Colombia trade agreement has labor standards, but 105 labor organizers have been killed and another 1,337 have received death threats since the agreement went into effect. The labor standards are meaningless without enforcement.

This special enforcement channel for corporations shows how these agreements increase the power of giant multinational corporations, tilting the playing field against the rest of us – even countries.

This week a trade promotion authority (“fast track”) bill is likely to be introduced in the Senate. Fast track in essence preapproves the big Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement containing ISDS provisions that dwarf those we have seen in previous trade agreements. This will solidify corporate power and tilt the playing field completely away from the rest of us, even our country. (See Now We Know Why Huge TPP Trade Deal Is Kept Secret From The Public for more information on this.)

Call your two senators and your member of Congress – and sign this petition: “No More Job Killing Trade Agreements.”

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