Unbeknownst to many, the World Trade Organization has increasingly attacked U.S. consumer and environmental policies.
In the past month, the WTO has ruled that both dolphin-safe tuna labels and the U.S. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act are, in fact, in violation of the organization’s rules.
If the U.S. refuses to abandon or revise these policies, it could face trade sanctions from the WTO.
For those of you that may be unfamiliar with dolphin-safe tuna labels, these are found on tuna products that were caught through fishing methods known to reduce dolphin bycatch.
The dolphin-safe tuna labeling campaign has been largely successful in the U.S., with consumers preferring tuna caught using these methods. However, the WTO has declared that the labels violate the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, calling it an “unnecessary obstacle to international trade.”
Spearheading this movement was Mexico, who believed the policy created an unfair advantage for those who receive a dolphin-safe label. Mexico has failed to meet the standards to receive the label, as their tuna corporations often use unsatisfactory fishing methods, and has sought to relax dolphin-safe tuna standards in the past.
The U.S. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was also found to be in violation of the same agreement. In an effort to reduce teenage smoking, the FSPTCA banned candy and clove cigarettes in 2009.
Extensive research has shown that teenagers more commonly use these, which are often marketed as “starter cigarettes.” Pushing this particular agenda was Indonesia, where clove cigarettes are a substantial export.
These are two blaring examples of the WTO placing corporate interests ahead of public interest. Are corporate profits more important than the positive effects derived from these consumer and environmental policies?
Apparently, to the WTO, profits are more significant than saving dolphins and preventing teenagers from developing an unhealthy and deadly addiction.
Viewing these progressive policies, which have been popular with the public, as “barriers to trade” is the WTO’s first mistake.
While reducing barriers to trade can achieve economic growth, mislabeling these policies as “barriers” will cost society more than it could hope to gain. Consumers and dolphins both lose with the elimination of dolphin-safe tuna labels, as consumer preferences have shown that it is clearly an important issue to many.
In the tobacco case, public health will ultimately suffer the greatest loss. Further addiction could place an additional monetary strain on the health care system.
Neither of these policies are considered to be particularly stringent market regulation. Both are fairly soft regulatory approaches, which have typically been safe from WTO attacks.
Neither policy seeks to discriminate against foreign trade, nor do they seek to promote domestic producers.
Therefore, neither should be open to attack from a trade organization; they are domestic policies.
Instead, the WTO has chosen to assert its influence over American policy decisions, while placing corporate profits ahead of the interests and health of the people.
By Ka Leo O Hawaii at the University of Hawaii Manoa.