by JIM ALGIE
Key agricultural leaders in U.S. Congress have vowed to avoid trade retaliation by Canada and Mexico following yet another World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling, Monday, against American country of origin labelling laws (COOL).
In a decision posted Monday to the website of the Geneva-based WTO, an appeal panel ruling rejects the latest in a series of U.S. appeals during a seven-year-long dispute mainly about the labelling of meat from cattle and hogs imported to the United States. The panel headed by presiding member Ricardo Ramírez-Hernández specifically rejected U.S. arguments and upheld Canadian and Mexican complaints that U.S. labelling laws “impose a disproportionate burden on producers and processors” of imported livestock.
The burden in record-keeping and verification is greater than can be explained “by the need to provide origin information to consumers,” a summary of the report’s findings says.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast are to meet with reporters and representatives of Canada’s beef and pork industries, today, in the foyer of the House of Commons to discuss the ruling’s implications. In a joint statement issued Monday a statutory holiday in Canada Fast, Ritz and Mexican trade and agriculture officials called on the United States to repeal COOL legislation and comply with their “international obligations.”
Both Mexican and Canadian governments will now seek WTO authority to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports, Monday’s joint statement said. In 2013, the Canadian government issued a list of potential target commodities for retaliation. It included live cattle and hogs, pork, beef and a range of other products, among them: apples, maple syrup, chocolate, frozen orange juice, ethyl alcohol, jewellery and wooden furniture.
In a statement reacting to Monday’s announcement, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association President Dave Solverson described it as “an incredibly important day for Canada’s cattle industry.” Solverson added his voice to the chorus calling on Congress to “finally repeal COOL on red meat.”
Solverson estimates his organization has spent $3.25 million since 2007 fighting COOL. The labelling measures add costs for Canadian farmers doing business with American buyers and packers.
In the U.S., Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (Rep. Kansas) and House of Representatives Agriculture Committee chair Michael Conaway (Rep. Texas) both urged Congressional action to head off retaliation by Canada and Mexico.
“I will consider any solution – including repeal regarding meat – that will allow the United States to be WTO-compliant and avoid retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” Roberts’ statement said. Likewise Conaway said “it is more important now than ever to act quickly to avoid a protracted trade war with our two, largest trade partners.”
Proposed solutions to the current impasse are on the agenda for a House Ag Committee business meeting planned for Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Conaway said. As well, the House committee chairman planned an 11 a.m. press conference, Tuesday, with other representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as officials of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council. Major U.S. meat processing firms have lobbied strongly against the labelling law.
U.S. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, whose organization supports COOL and downplays the costs involved, called for a negotiated agreement with Canada and Mexico that will allow for “continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labelling requirement.”
“Those who find value in greater information to consumers on where their food products are from want to see the administration work with Canada and Mexico for a resolution that maximizes the information to consumers in all three countries,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, in an April report to Congress, the office of the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found existing labelling law “does not provide much in the way of measurable economic benefits for the American consumer.” Analysis by government economists and an academic panel of independent livestock economists found the labelling law added significant costs for producers, packers and retailers without producing much obvious increase in demand. BF