MEXICAN officials are reacting angrily to an Oct. 10 United
States embargo on tuna.
Not only is it souring trade relations with Mexico, but a
secondary ban to go into effect in December may also rankle Japan
and European nations as well.
The embargo, required by the US Marine Mammal Protection Act,
revised in 1988, forbids the sale of tuna in the US if a certain
number of dolphins are killed in the fishing process.
What bothers Mexican officials is that the US, by virtue of its
market size, can single-handedly force a poor nation to comply with
costly ecological standards set by the US Congress.
"It seems totally unjust when the US Congress makes laws which
apply to third countries and the use of their own resources. How
would you feel if Mexico made law for the US?" asks Clara Jusidman,
Mexico's undersecretary of fishery development. "It seems contrary
to the spirit of open markets the US is promoting."
International ecological standards should be set in international
forums, Ms. Jusidman argues.
For example, Mexico has been working on a plan since the
beginning of the year for the protection of all species captured
incidentally during fishing. It will push its plan on Nov. 19 at the
Latin American Organization for the Development of Fisheries in
Jusidman points out that the dolphins being killed are not
considered "endangered" species. But the US Marine Mammal Protection
Act does provide protection to species deemed depleted below
She says that Mexico has reduced its dolphin kill rate by 70
percent over the last four years. "If we're really talking about
protecting dolphins, we need more evidence that the Mexican fleet is
causing serious damage," says Jusidman.
The perception here is that this embargo is not ecological but
economic. Based on the Law of the Sea Treaty, in 1980 Mexico
declared its 200-mile economic zone off limits to foreign fleets. It
has since built up the second-largest and most-modern tuna fleet in
the world. It's become a valued source of foreign currency and jobs
for some 3,000 families.
Now that Mexico's fleet is big enough to take market share from
the US industry, claim officials, protectionist barriers go up.
Actually, even without the US law, Mexico may find itself selling
to a shrinking US market. In April, the three largest US tuna
canners - with some 80 percent market share - Starkist, Chicken of
the Sea, and Bumblebee - declared they would only sell "Dolphin
But it is not just losing the US market that hurts. (Sales to the
US comprise 3 percent now, but were about 15 percent in years past).
The major blow will come early next month, when Mexico may lose most
of its tuna export markets. Sixty days after the initial embargo, US
law requires a secondary ban on countries buying Mexican tuna and
reexporting it to the US. …