THE on-again, off-again United States embargo on Mexican tuna is back on. And to officials in Mexico, it still has the stench of protectionism. ``In accordance with international law, no country has the right to impose their own criteria on others, much less apply sanctions,'' says Fernando Solana, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Relations.
The embargo stems from the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, which forbids US and overseas fisherman from selling tuna in the US if they kill more than a diminishing quota of dolphins in the process. Mexico is the only nation exceeding the quota, according to US figures.
The embargo was reinstated by the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Feb. 20. The US Department of Commerce lost its appeal of an earlier court decision requiring the ban last year.
The US sanctions are an embarrassment to the Bush administration which is trying to get congressional approval for ``fast track'' negotiations on a US-Canada-Mexico free-trade pact.
Several prominent Mexican politicians and business leaders are irked by what they see as a ploy to protect US market share by forcing a poor, developing nation to meet unreasonably high ecological standards. They want this dispute and the issue of environmental trade barriers on the table in the free-trade talks.
``This is a particularly severe warning for the free-trade agreement negotiators [of the loopholes to watch out for],'' says Hermenegildo Anguianos, a congressman belonging to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI.