October 11, 2009

The government of Canada on Wednesday officially asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to convene a panel to investigate the U.S. mandatory country of origin (COOL) labeling law for imported meat. Canada’s request for a panel comes after two rounds of WTO consultations with the U.S. failed to resolve the issue, according to a news release from the Canadian government. Panels are the next step in the WTO’s dispute settlement process.

In a joint statement, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, "We regret that formal consultations have not been successful in resolving Canada's concerns over country of origin labeling (COOL) required by the 2008 Farm Bill for certain agricultural products.

"We believe that our implementation of COOL provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization commitments.

"Countries have agreed since long before the existence of the WTO that country of origin labeling is a legitimate policy. It is common for other countries to require that goods be labeled as to their origin.

"We hope to continue to work with Canada to resolve this issue amicably."

According to NCBA, Canada’s decision to move forward with their complaint against U.S. COOL regulations is unfortunate, due to the potential retaliatory action that could be taken against U.S. beef. “Since COOL was first proposed, we’ve continued to have concerns about its potential implications on our relationship with our top two trading partners—not to mention its impact on domestic feeder cattle markets at our borders to the North and South,” NCBA said in a statement.

“The U.S. imports and adds value to Mexican and Canadian livestock through our feedlots, processing and infrastructure; and we export this value-added finished product back to Mexican and Canadian consumers. Any disruptions to either of these markets will have a significant economic impact on our industry. Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that COOL has damaged these critically important trading relationships, and is not putting any additional money into the pockets of cattlemen.

“Canada and Mexico are our top two trading partners, together accounting for 59% of total U.S. beef, beef variety meat and processed beef product export revenues last year. It is likely that Mexico will join Canada in proceeding with a formal WTO dispute settlement process,” NCBA said.

-- Canadian government, USDA and NCBA releases