Free Trade and Sea Turtles: The International and Domestic Implications of the Shrimp-Turtles Case

51 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2012

See all articles by Susan L. Sakmar

Susan L. Sakmar

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: 1999


On October 12, 1998 the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) released its decision in the closely watched case of United States-Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp Products, commonly referred to as the Shrimp-Turtles case. The Shrimp-Turtles case remains one of the seminal environmental cases in WTO jurisprudence and is significant for both its international and domestic implications.

On the international level, the case is significant because the WTO Appellate Body made two important rulings. First, it recognized that a WTO member could impose its domestic environmental regulations on another member so long as certain safeguards are met. Second, it recognized the right of panels to accept information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). At the domestic level, the Shrimp-Turtles case demonstrates the increasing conflict between the three branches of US government in enacting and enforcing environmental measures. The Shrimp-Turtles case also demonstrates how environmental groups can play a significant role in global environmental policy by challenging a government's lack of enforcement of its own domestic laws.

This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the Shrimp Turtles case starting with a detailed discussion of the nature of sea turtles and the magnitude of the threat to them, as well as critical analysis of the WTO’s Panel Report and the WTO’s Appellate Body report. The article also addresses the international and domestic implications the Shrimp-Turtles case will have on future environmental trade disputes including the right of a member country to impose environmental regulations on other WTO members.

Keywords: WTO, Shrimp-Turtles, Panel Report, Appellate Body, GATT, Article XX, chapeau, arbitrary, unjustifiable, discrimination, SPS, embargo, multilateral, sea turtles, shrimp, environment, NGOs, sustainable development

JEL Classification: F02, F18, K33, Q2

Suggested Citation

Sakmar, Susan L., Free Trade and Sea Turtles: The International and Domestic Implications of the Shrimp-Turtles Case (1999). Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy, Vol. 10, No. 2, p. 345, 1999, Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Susan L. Sakmar (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States
4152724691 (Phone)

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