Endangered Species Handbook

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Legislation

NAFTA and WTO

      Two major trade treaties have been enacted that affect wildlife and the environment:  the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization, formed from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).  These international treaties establish panels to adjudicate conflicts over trade involving domestic legislation.  NAFTA is a trade agreement negotiated with Canada and Mexico that, in principle, is intended to create a free market similar to the European Economic Union.  GATT is a worldwide treaty that also encourages free trade, but through its World Trade Organization (WTO), a legal panel, it can require countries whose domestic legislation interferes with free trade to pay high fines, change the law or face retaliatory trade sanctions by other GATT nations. In 1991, for example, the Director-General of GATT appointed a panel to mediate a trade dispute between Mexico and the United States concerning the U.S. embargo on tuna products caught by setting lethal purse seine nets, which catch dolphins and drown untold thousands of these intelligent mammals.  The Panel found that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was inconsistent with the treaty because domestic legislation could not interfere with free trade, a major component of this treaty.  Since this was prior to the participation of the United States in WTO, U.S. government officials, after heavy lobbying from animal protection and environmental organizations, chose to block adoption of the Panel ruling.  Now that the United States is a member of WTO, the Panel's decisions will have to be adhered to.
 
      It is conceivable that the Marine Mammal Protection Act, along with the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, and other laws affecting the environment, might be seriously weakened if rulings by the WTO determine aspects of these laws to be anti-free trade.  For example, the WTO ruled against the United States in a case involving the importation of shrimp from countries that did not use nets designed to exclude sea turtles to prevent their drowning.  U.S. laws allow such an embargo, but WTO decided this regulation was against the principles of free trade and ordered the United States to change its laws to allow shrimp to enter no matter how it was caught.  WTO and NAFTA threaten U.S. sovereignty and may negate important legislation protecting wildlife and the environment, opening up trade in endangered, threatened and mistreated animals.


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    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute