No small issue

Published: Friday 15 November 1996

India and three other Asian countries have started legal procedures against the us government over the latter's decision to ban the import of shrimp trawled from their coastal waters. They have sent the us mission in the World Trade Organization (wto) a request to start consultations on the issue. Meanwhile, a major debate has cropped up between two environmental ngo s over the issue of whether us environmental laws can be forced down the throat of any country by using arm-twisting trade restrictions. The trade ban had come into force from May, when the New York-based Court of International Trade ruled, on a petition filed by the us -based ngo , Earth Island Institute (eii), that the us government should ban import of shrimps from countries which did not ensure that endangered turtle species are protected, and these included India, Malaysia Pakistan and Thailand.

The request of the four countries is the first step towards the dispute settling procedure of the wto . The us has 10 days to reply, and 30 to start the consultations. Earlier, Down To Earth had reported that India had a strong case, because under the wto dispensation, no country has the right to ban a product if its production caused environmental damage.

This report triggered off an angry response from the eii, which accused the New Delhi-based ngo, Centre for Science and Environment (cse) of taking a pro-government, anti-environment stand. eii also said that the ban was being sought under the us Environmental Protection Act, "one of the strongest pieces of environmental legislation anywhere in the world." In response, cse has said that the us law may be strong, but it could not be imposed on any other country. "Even to expect this would be extremely unfair and undemocratic, and amounts to naked power-mongering" cse said. Meanwhile, cse has branded the Indian government as "morally bankrupt" for not taking steps to save any of its fast depleting biological resources.

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