Marine Mammals and the GATT

World Trade Organization
Centre William Rappard
Rue de Lausanne 154
CH – 1211 Geneva 21
Dear Secretary:

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is an international scientific organization whose membership conduct research on marine mammals around the world. The Society’s membership currently includes approximately 1,400 marine science professionals and students living and working in North America, South America, Europe, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

The Committee of Scientific Advisors to the Board of Governors of the Society has identified a potential concern for world trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), to adversely affect the conservation of marine mammals, other marine species, and marine ecosystems worldwide. Although world trade issues and marine mammals may seem unrelated, this is in fact not the case. Marine mammals are a significant component of ocean ecosystems. They live in coastal and offshore waters where many human activities occur. They may be adversely affected by these activities, as in the case of polluted waters or lost habitat, or they may be directly affected by incidental catches in commercial fishing operations or collisions with ships.

A GATT dispute panel convened to rule on Mexico’s challenges to the United States’ Marine Mammal Protection Act examined questions related to the conservation of dolphins involved in the Eastern Tropical Pacific commercial tuna fisheries, and to determine whether the provisions of U.S. law were “necessary to protect dolphin life ad health”. Article XX of the GATT provides general exceptions from GATT rules for certain kinds of measures, including measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life of health” (XX(b)) and measures “relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources” (XX(g)), provided that the measures are neither arbitrary or unjustifiably discriminatory among States where the same conditions prevail, and do not represent a disguised restriction on trade. However, the report of the Mexico tuna-MMPA panel found that Articles XX(b) and XX(g) do not permit the use of trade measures to protect resources outside the exclusive jurisdiction of the State taking the measure (i.e., the United States of America). While we understand that this panel report has not been adopted, it is generally understood to represent the position of almost all GATT parties. Our Committee of Scientific Advisors notes that such decisions are contrary to the basic principle of living resource conservation: that methods of harvesting or producing a product that have significant detrimental effects on the environment or the wildlife species involved should be mitigated or avoided altogether. Decisions like that of the Mexico tuna-MMPA panel could have grave implications for conservation of marine mammal populations and should be made in consultation with recognized scientific experts that are knowledgeable in the specific technical areas under consideration.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy believes that the conservation of marine species and marine ecosystems need not impede economic prosperity. However, neither should free trade activities disadvantage marine species and their habitats. Sustainable trade is achievable if scientific advice based on biological, social, and economic considerations is an integral part of the development of trade policies and renewable resource use. In this way, free trade and the conservation of marine species can complement each other and achieve economic growth and ecological stability.

For this reason, the Society for Marine Mammalogy would like to encourage member governments of the World Trade Organization and the Secretariat of the World Trade Organization to seek expert scientific advice when considering policies and issues in which free trade may adversely affect marine mammal species, populations, or marine ecosystems. The advise and information from individuals and organizations with direct research experience on marine mammals and their environment will allow the World Trade Organization to develop policies that will facilitate international trade AND be based on reliable scientific information and sound conservation policy.

The Society has in its membership many internationally recognized scientists with expertise on marine mammals, complex marine environments, and the management of marine species. In the future, we would be pleased to provide the World Trade Organization, or members of its dispute panels, with the names of scientific experts who would be able to provide information about marine mammals and marine environments in areas relevant to specific international trade concerns.

Sincerely yours,

Jeanette A. Thomas, Ph.D.