by SUSAN MANN
Canadian government and livestock industry representatives are disappointed the United States government has refused to change its mandatory Country of Origin Labelling law through the updated Farm Bill.
“By refusing to fix Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), the United States is effectively legislating its own citizens out of work and harming Canadian and American livestock producers alike by disrupting the highly integrated North American meat supply chain,” federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast say in a joint prepared statement.
Before Christmas, Canadian government and livestock groups were looking to American lawmakers to alter country of origin labelling in the U.S. Farm Bill, which is legislation governing United States Department of Agriculture programs. It’s renewed every five years. But negotiations on the Farm Bill concluded without any changes to the COOL legislation the American government implemented in November 2013 after the World Trade Organization ruled in July 2012 the original law doesn’t comply with the United States’ trade obligations. The original law was implemented in 2008.
The final Farm Bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 251 to 166 this week. It’s slated to come up in the Senate for a vote early next week.
But John Masswohl, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association director of government and international relations, says “I don’t think it will have any trouble passing in the Senate.”
That means the American law will stay in place unaltered for now.
Masswohl agrees with Ritz and Fast that the American legislation, which requires meat to be labeled with details of where animals were born, raised and processed, will reduce jobs in the United States. “I was watching the State of the Union speech the other night and President Barack Obama seemed to express the view that he cared about American jobs but when they do things like this you really have to wonder if they do or not.”
Masswohl says “I really believed they were going to take the opportunity to fix this. We’ve always said there are different options. Our objective has been to eliminate the segregation that’s required. That’s the source of the discrimination” against livestock that isn’t born and raised in the United States.
“When you have to segregate it causes discounts to be in the marketplace,” he adds.
Ritz and Fast say the Canadian government’s position “remains that the changes made by the Untied States administration to mandatory COOL increase discrimination against North American producers and processors and hurt hard-working Canadians and Americans alike.”
It’s full steam ahead for Canada to change the mandatory COOL law at the WTO. Canadian Cattlemen’s says in a Jan. 27 press release the next step in that process is oral arguments before the WTO compliance panel the week of Feb. 18.
The WTO panel will rule on whether COOL complies with the United States’ trade obligations. “We’ll get a decision by probably late spring,” Masswohl says. “Then there will be an appeal and that will take us to the end of the year.”
It could be the first half of 2015 before Canada can slap retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, such as beef, pork, cereals, baked goods, fresh fruit and many other items. The Canadian government has already published a list of U.S. goods that could be targeted for retaliatory tariffs. BF