July 20, 2012

 

Canada's meat producers win over US on country-of-origin labelling

 

 

A victory over the US on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) is being celebrated by Canadian beef and pork producers.

 

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) last month ruled a US meat labelling programme unfairly discriminated against Canada and Mexico. The ruling, following an appeal by the US, will force US authorities to bring the scheme in line with global trade rules.

 

Canadian Cattlemen's Association president Martin Unrau says by upholding the part of the panel ruling that confirmed the discriminatory nature of COOL, the WTO's final decision has provided an important victory for its members. Unrau is hopeful that US will amend the COOL legislation to eliminate the discrimination. 

 

"This is the result that we have been seeking. The CCA will be working with its US counterparts to... eliminate discrimination of Canadian cattle in the US market."

 

COOL has affected billions of dollars of commerce in cattle and beef products since it was implemented in 2008, he says. At a cost of US$30-50 per head, the current impact of COOL on Canadian producers is about US$183 million per year.

 

Canadian Pork Council second vice-president Florian Possberg says the way the law was set up and applied was "very discriminatory". Whole country-of-origin labelling was a non-tariff trade barrier and that part has to be dropped, Possberg says. "It's just not fair according to WTO and we agree."

 

Under US law in force since March 2009, food processors must identify the nations from which cattle, hogs and some fresh produce originate. The legislation has its roots in the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ('mad cow' disease) in a Canadian-bred animal in 2003. Canada and Mexico say the provisions impose unjust costs on their exports, reducing their competitiveness. The WTO appeals body agrees. But the ruling is not all bad news for the US. The appeals body also found COOL achieves a legitimate policy objective by telling consumers about the food they eat.

 

US trade representative Ron Kirk says he is "pleased" with the ruling as it affirms the right of the US to "adopt labelling requirements that provide information to American consumers about the meat they buy."

 

But US beef farmers say it is clear COOL violates WTO rules. National Cattlemen's Beef Association vice president Bob McCan says the trade battle jeopardises their strong trade relationship with Canada and Mexico. US cattlemen deserve a government that fights for and protects our opportunities, he says.

 

"We need a government that demands WTO compliance by our trade partners and ensures the US is abiding by these same guidelines. We are committed to working with this administration and Congress to find a permanent solution to this issue in order to bring the US back into compliance. It is critical the US leads by example."

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