US Will Use Trade Leverage to Save Near-Extinct Vaquita Porpoise in Sea of ​​Cortez

Scientists are returning a vaquita, a tiny, stocky-nosed porpoise on the brink of extinction, to the ocean as part of a conservation project in the Sea of ​​Cortez. File photo via REUTERS

The United States is seeking the first-ever consultations with Mexico on its environmental obligations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, including protection of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise, U.S. officials said Trade.

The formal talks — which could ultimately lead to trade sanctions — will also address Mexico’s obligations to prevent illegal fishing and trafficking of critically endangered totoaba fish, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in a statement. press release released Thursday.

Vaquita, a native of the Sea of ​​Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, becomes entangled and dies in fishing gear intended to catch shrimp, totoaba – a large fish prized in China for its swim bladder – and other finfish.

“There are serious concerns about Mexico’s enforcement of its environmental laws in accordance with its USMCA obligations related to the protection of endangered species, the prevention of illegal fishing and fish trafficking. “, deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jayme White told reporters.

He said the USTR hoped to reach a negotiated settlement with Mexico following formal consultations, but the trade deal also provided “additional tools” if the talks failed.

Senior USTR officials said the trade deal provided for consultations to be scheduled within 30 days and involve technical experts, although an extension is possible.

If no deal is reached, U.S. officials could request a dispute resolution panel after a minimum of 75 days, which could ultimately result in tariffs or other trade sanctions, USTR officials said.

“It’s a big step that could save these little porpoises from extinction,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Illegal fishing is out of control in Mexican waters, and the vaquita is paying the highest possible price.”

Mexico’s economy ministry said in a statement that it had received a request for consultations on the matter with the United States. The ministry said it would coordinate work between the authorities of the two countries “with the aim of presenting in a timely manner the efforts and measures adopted to protect marine species in national waters”.

“The Government of Mexico reaffirms its commitment to the proper implementation of T-MEC and the responsibilities acquired within it,” the statement read, using the Spanish acronym for USMCA.

Environmental groups urged the USTR in August to file lawsuits against Mexico over its continued failure to clamp down on rampant illegal fishing in the Sea of ​​Cortez that has caused the vaquita to go to near extinction.

The USTR said the most recent data showed at least six vaquitas, but likely fewer than 19, remain on earth, but experts believe the species remains biologically viable if given the space to recover. .

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