Shrimp mentality

the Indian government is examining the legal aspects of the us ban on shrimp exports from this country. The us has argued that shrimp farming in India, Thailand and Indonesia is threatening some endangered species of turtles. However, considering the various laws regulating trade bans, it seems that India is in a solid position to challenge the ban, announced in May this year.

According to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and the World Trade Organization ( gatt/wto) , a country can impose a product standard or a product-related process standard and can, in some circumstances, use trade restrictive measures to ensure that these standards are met.If however, some environmental damage is being caused in the country of production, and this damage does not get reflected in the final product that is exported, then the importing country cannot use a trade measure, since this will be extra-jurisdictional. This puts India and the other exporting countries in a strong position if they take the case to the dispute settlement mechanism of the wto.

In 1992, as a result of a suit filed by the Earth Island Institute, a San Francisco-based environmental organisation, the us passed Public Law 101-012, making Turtle Excluder Devices (teds) mandatory for all large shrimp vessels which represent a threat to turtles. The ban followed as a natural consequence. Earlier, some select countries had faced the ban, but in May this year, it was extended to all shrimp exporting countries, including India.

Before filing a case, the Indian government will be required to provide detailed information of their shrimp operations in order to get a no-objection dsp 121 certificate from the Marine Products Export Development Association (mpeda), a commerce ministry body, according to the conditions laid down by the us. The use of teds for largescale shrimp farming in India presents problems, since the equipment still has to be imported. Research is currently on to indigenously develop teds appropriate for Indian waters.

The effect of this ban on Indian exports is not at all clear. Though confirmed statistics are not available from mpeda or the Indian ministry of commerce, over 70 per cent of the shrimps exported to the us are cultured, and therefore, not affected by the ban, which applies only to shrimps caught by large trawlers in the wild. Smaller vessels, less than 10 m, do not harm turtles. But there are no available statistics at present that clearly indicate the amount shrimps caught in the smaller 'turtle safe' vessels. Also, there is no system to check and verify the source of and method by which shrimps are caught. And though there are five listed species of endangered turtles, including Olive Ridleys, found in India, some of these are migratory and are not in the shrimp farming areas.