Mexico Hires Bill Clinton's Former Trade Negotiator To Attack America's Dolphin-Safe Tuna Regulations

News & Politics

As the battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) lumbers on, critics of the agreement warn that it will empower foreign courts to overrule American health, safety, labor, and environmental laws on behalf of lawsuits brought by multi-national corporations.

President Obama and proponents of the TPP have dismissed this claim as blown out of proportion. But a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling from mid-April shows that this is far from a chimeric threat. The WTO ruled that U.S. dolphin-safe canned tuna labels were discriminating against Mexico, because these American rules disqualify current Mexican tuna from having dolphin-safe labels.

The Obama administration has announced its intention to appeal the ruling, arguing that Mexico, which largely fishes in the dolphin-rich eastern Pacific, has failed to show that its tuna actually is deserving of the label. But as the ruling stands, Mexico is freed up to retaliate against the U.S. government, as it is standing in direct violation of a WTO ruling.

To assist in its case against the American government, the Mexican government has nabbed a key asset – someone who used to be on the inside. They hired Ira Shapiro, who served as the former general counsel and ambassador in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during Bill Clinton's tenure.

In early 2014, Shapiro formed his own consulting firm, Ira Shapiro Global Strategies, departing from Greenberg Traurig, the law and lobbying firm he had worked at for eleven years. In 2015, the Mexican government's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Sagarpa/Conapesca) contracted Shapiro to serve as a consultant to his old firm Greenberg Traurig in its work with the Mexican government on the dolphin-safe tuna regulations. Through April 3, 2015, Shapiro was paid $18,000.

In his disclosure with the Department of Justice, Shapiro described the sort of work he did for the Mexican government:

I am part of the legal team representing Sagarpa/Conapesca in the WTO dispute brought by Mexico against the United States concerning the U.S. “dolphin-safe” measures. In addition to my strictly legal work, I sometimes engage in policy work in support of the Mexican government position in the dispute. Mexico has been working to get the U.S. to allow Mexican tuna products to come into the United States with a dolphin safe label, because of Mexico's involvement in the successful international agreements reducing dolphin moralities and injuries. My role can include political activities, such as meeting with Congressional staff , journalists, and NGOs to discuss the complex questions of fact and law connected with the long dispute. It also can include working on statements or other materials used to communicate a message about why Mexico's tuna products should be eligible for a dolphin safe label, and why the current US. dolphin safe labeling regime is unreliable and deceptive to consumers.

Look closely at the section we bolded above. Shapiro was once ostensibly tasked by the U.S. government to argue for environmental, health, and safety laws as a part of his role in international disputes. Now, he's being paid by foreign governments to call those laws “unreliable and deceptive to consumers.”

As mentioned before, Shapiro had been paid $18,000 this year through April 3rd for his services to Mexico. Included with his disclosure is a letter explaining what funds Greenberg Traurig will transfer to Shapiro for his continued consulting role. The flat rate they agreed to was $6,000 per month, which explains the $18,000 Shapiro has been paid so far. However, there's an exception for “those months when [Shapiro] is required or authorized by [Mexico] to travel in connection with this matter. In those months,[Mexico] will pay [Shapiro] an amount equal to $4,000 per day of travel.” (Emphasis ours.)

You have to wonder how many Obama administration officials eagerly pushing for approval of TPP are looking at those figures with jealousy and already planning their post-government lobbying work. It's great work if you can get it. All you have to do is sell out your country.

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