May 11, 2009

Mexico asks WTO for consultation on US COOL meat labelling

Mexico said Friday (May 8) it has asked the World Trade Organization for consultations with the US over its country-of-origin labelling law, or COOL, that could harm Mexican livestock exports.

The Economy Ministry said it will call for a WTO dispute settlement panel to resolve the case if a mutually satisfactory agreement isn't reached.

"The dispositions in COOL generate important costs that are passed on to Mexican exporters," the ministry said in a press release.

The Mexican announcement follows a similar request filed by Canada Thursday and is the first step toward filing an official bilateral complaint with the Geneva-based WTO.

Mexico fears the new measures demanded under the COOL labelling will hurt Mexican livestock and agriculture exports and could be in violation of WTO rules. Mexico and Canada first launched a joint complaint over COOL at the WTO in December.

Under the new COOL rules, which went into effect Sept. 30 and apply to beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, peanuts and pecans, only meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the US can be labelled as a product of the US

For animals that are imported but partly raised and slaughtered in the US, extensive and costly additional paperwork is required for the labelling process, which Mexico and Canada as the two partners of the US in the North American Free Trade Agreement said is unfair.

Mexico fears the measure will generate discrimination against Mexican products, since the US consumer will prefer products labelled as originating in the US, the Mexican Economy Ministry has said.

According to Mexican Agriculture Ministry data, Mexico exported 572,058 head of cattle to the US in 2008, while in 2007 live cattle exports were just over 873,000 head.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said that "COOL is having a significant negative impact on the Canadian livestock industry and we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that our producers are treated fairly."

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last week that the US was willing to negotiate with Canada. He told reporters the US is looking "to see if we can't come to some mutually agreed-upon resolution" with Canada over the labelling law.

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