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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK

World: Americas

US green trade laws ruled illegal

US laws to protect turtles have been ruled as contravening world trade rules

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that steps taken by the United States to protect endangered turtles contravene global rules on free trade.

But, in an unprecedented decision, the WTO endorsed a country's right to adopt laws to protect endangered species and preserve the environment.

The WTO's appeal body said a United States ban on shrimp imports from India, Pakistan, Thailand and Malaysia - imposed because the countries did not use the turtle-friendly nets required under US law - was unjustifiable and arbitrary.

The United States maintains that all but one species of sea turtles have become threatened or endangered, largely because of shrimp trawlers that operate without the devices.

Martin Wagner of Earthjustice Legal Defence Fund looks at an apparently contradictory ruling
Under US law, countries that export shrimp to the US have to fit a special device on their nets which prevent turtles from becoming entangled and drowning.

The ban is estimated to have cost the Asian countries more than $2bn in lost business.

The WTO ruled that the US had no right to penalise other countries if they did not follow its own law. The ruling said the US should rather have consulted the other countries involved, and tried to reach a multi-lateral agreement on turtle protection.

The US denies it discriminated against the countries concerned and says it does not intend changing its domestic legislation.

The WTO ruling did however include an endorsement of a country's right to protect endangered species and preserve the environment, an unprecedented move which the BBC correspondent in Geneva reflects the desire from many WTO member states for a greater emphasis on environmental concerns.

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