WTO Rules on COOL

Dispute panel says COOL gives U.S. cattle and hog sales an unfair advantage over imports from Mexico and Canada.

Published on: Nov 18, 2011

The World Trade Organization has ruled in support of complaints by Canada and Mexico that U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling violates global trade rules and unjustly harms agricultural commerce. The dispute panel's ruling that the United States' COOL mandatory labeling law is too stringent, gives U.S. cattle and hog sales an unfair advantage over imports from Mexico and Canada. Canadian cattle shipments to the United States have fallen by more than half, and hog exports to the United States are down 40% so far in 2011 from the volume three years ago.

Colin Woodall, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association called this a strong ruling from the WTO that proves COOL was not only a disservice to U.S. cattlemen and women but also contained far-reaching implications for two of the most important trade partners for U.S. agriculture.

NCBA does not want this ruling appealed.  Instead, NCBA urges U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to work with NCBA and other pro-trade organizations to apply pressure on Congress to bring the United States into WTO compliance across the board. Woodall says the U.S. must act quickly before U.S. farmers and ranchers once again face unnecessary and unfortunate retaliatory tariffs on their products.

According to Woodall, U.S. livestock producers have yet to see any financial benefit from COOL provisions. In many cases, ranchers who feed imported cattle have incurred significant discounts, which have not been offset by benefits proponents of COOL claimed would be available. Just as importantly, cattlemen have yet to discern any positive reaction from consumers regarding mandatory origin labeling.

Following the WTO ruling, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office said it is considering all options, including an appeal. Although the panel disagreed with the specifics of how the United States designed those requirements, we remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level.

Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union points out that WTO agreed that COOL is allowable in principle. COOL gives consumers the opportunity to make informed food purchases for their families while, at the same time, providing American food producers the opportunity to distinguish their products in the retail marketplace. But, COOL label requirements are not clear in all instances.

American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle says the ruling was not surprising.  We've contended for years in statements, letters and comments that this law was not just costly and cumbersome, but a violation of our country's WTO obligations.