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The Collision of the Environment and Trade: The GATT Tuna/Dolphin Decision

April 1992

Citation: ELR 10268

Author: Robert F. Housman and Durwood J. Zaelke

Editors' Summary: On September 3, 1991, a three-member dispute resolution panel formed by the signatories to the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) held that a U.S. embargo on Mexican tuna and tuna products harvested in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean violated GATT. The resulting controversy has focused on the decision's effect on U.S. actions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and the ramifications to other U.S. environmental laws with international trade impacts. The authors describe the legal background of this decision, including the GATT and MMPA provisions addressed by the panel, analyze the decision in depth, and discuss the recent U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decision enjoining the Secretaries of Commerce and the Treasury and the National Marine Fisheries Service from allowing intermediary nations to import tuna from embargoed harvesting nations into the United States. Finally, the authors analyze the potential effects of the panel's decision on domestic laws and international laws and agreements and conclude that although the decision's policy ramifications will be significant, it will have little effect on U.S. law.

Mr. Housman is a staff attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law-U.S. Mr. Zaelke is the President of the Center for International Environmental Law-U.S. The authors wish to thank David Downes and Margaret Spring for their assistance in preparing this Article.

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