The Dolphin Tuna: US Trade Power Over the Americas

This morning we had a lecture on Tariffs and Trades with Brazil and other emerging markets, known as the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). I continue to be impressed by the caliber of teacher our university, Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV), provides us. Each morning and afternoon we are met with FGV professors that are not only clear experts in their area, but speak with such passion and animation for their fields that we can not help but get caught up.

This morning was a prime example. There isn’t much in business that turns me off more than trade laws, tariffs, and treaties (well, maybe statistics) … and we had 3 hours of it this morning. On paper? Looked like hell. However, in person? Surprisingly interesting. I found myself constantly looking up additional info on the terms, treaties, stories, and charts the Prof quickly ran through to learn more and engage. And, by the way, I do mean “ran through”. I lost count of how many slides she skipped over, saying “you can read this one later in bed”.

One of my favorite discussions of the class was around the international animal rights that the US has attempted to impose at the WTO (and not just because I am marrying a veterinarian in 4 months). Sure, it’s a good cross-profession dinner table discussion for us, but this is generally an interesting look at US foreign trade relations that I think many will find interesting:

(no time to validate these facts, but just assume I’m right or look it up and tell me otherwise)

The Dolphin Tuna Fish Dilemma

The concept of dolphin-safe tuna labeling originated in the United States when the US wanted to increase tariffs to Mexico, if they did not impose changes to their tuna fishing practices. The problem, as you may remember, was that too many dolphins were being caught and killed in the nets of Mexican tuna fishing boats that import to the US. In 1989, the US. brought the “Marine Mammal Protection Act” to the WTO, which would have forced Mexico to change fishing practices. However, because this act was based on US only regulations, it violated the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (“Agreement”) and the WTO ruled in favor of Mexico (more info available here).

However, the US responded to this was with a marketing campaign to expose the issue to US citizens, driving down the sale of tuna fish to consumers. (I was only 8 but I remember my mother telling me to look on the label for “dolphin-free tuna”). The campaign worked, consumption fell, and Mexico eventually buckled. A new process was put in place where tuna fishing nets are collected a meter below the water surface (where supposedly dolphins can just jump over).

There is another example we discussed – Sea Turtles being caught in Brazilian lobster traps. But since Sea Turtles are an international endangered species, the US was correct in their imposition to the WTO, and practices changed quickly to allow an “escape hatch” for sea turtles to escape the traps. Check it out here for more info.

Hearing this story from the perspective of a Brazilian world trade expert certainly puts a different spin on the situation. It may be my natural pull to humanities teaching, but I truly enjoyed this historical and socio-political context to what would otherwise be dry statistics regurgitation. Our FGV professor did a great job of making us think analytically about the impacts to trade and treaty situations with Brazil, the BRICS group, and general foreign trade.

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