Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast this week announced that Canada has requested a World Trade Organization compliance panel on U.S. Country of Origin Labeling.
The action follows lengthy back-and-forth disputes between the U.S., Canada and Mexico regarding the conformity of COOL to WTO standards. The original complaint from neighboring trade partners alleged that COOL fostered an unfair trade advantage for the United States, as it allowed manufacturers to provide the country of origin on meat and product labels. That, they said, could cause consumers to avoid buying products imported from other countries.
In May, the U.S. unveiled a reformed standard, which proposed to list on meat labels where the originating animal was born, raised and slaughtered. However, both Mexico and Canada said the revised standard wasn't enough.
"We believe that the recent amendments to the COOL measure will further hinder the ability of Canadian cattle and hog producers to freely compete in the U.S. market," the Canadian ministers said in a joint statement Monday.
They noted that they hoped to avoid having to resort to the WTO to settle the matter, but "despite consistent rulings by the WTO, the U.S. government continues its unfair trade practices, which are severely damaging to Canadian industry and jobs."
Canada in June issued a list of commodities that it may use to retaliate against the U.S. Among the items on the list were live bovine or swine, meat of bovine or swine, dairy and produce products, and even wooden office furniture.
While the list was released as a way to formally launch the consultation process and announce displeasure with the revised U.S. COOL rule, the Canadian ministers clarified that the government "would not act on retaliatory measures until the WTO authorizes us to do so."
Trade groups fight back
In a separate disagreement, Canadian and Mexican meat interest groups, along with the American Association of Meat Processors and American Meat Institute, have entered into a lawsuit against the USDA, alleging that Country of Origin Labeling violates the Constitution by compelling speech in the form of detailed labeling on meat products that "do not directly advance a government interest."
In a request to intervene in the lawsuit, the National Farmers Union claimed that COOL allows consumers to understand more about the origin of their food, and thus provides an extra value.
The meat interests have since filed for an immediate injunction, claiming that any continued implementation of the COOL rule will adversely affect North American meat trade and result in retaliation among trading partners.
For more on the story, click the links below:
WTO COOL Review Could Be Telling for Trade
COOL Ruled Non-Compliant With WTO Agreement