Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz spoke from Washington, D.C., at a teleconference last week where he met with Canadian meat industry leaders, and some of their U.S. counterparts, to reinforce Canada’s position against mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL).
Ritz said that COOL is unfair to the trade agreement in North America, causing country of origin discrimination and hitting the Canadian meat industry with substantial revenue losses.
“The U.S. requirement for mandatory country of origin labelling continues to do serious harm to the integration of our beef and pork industries in North America,” said Ritz. “Industry estimates that COOL is costing Canadian beef and pork industries over a billion dollars a year in price discounts and lost sales.”
And as it turns out, Canada isn’t the only country feeling the hit from COOL. In the last three years, Mexico has joined Canada in taking the issue to the World Trade Organization, three times, and each time the two countries have won, leaving the U.S. down to their last appeal – which is expected to take place next week.
Ritz said that although he’s sure the U.S. will lose once more, he’d rather they “do the right thing” and address the situation without getting the WTO involved again.
“I’m very encouraged by recent developments in the U.S. Congress as they’ve asked Secretary Tom Vilsack (U.S. secretary of agriculture) to report back to them on how to provide a legislative fix to COOL if the U.S. loses the appeal, which everyone believes they will,” he said.
“It’s a line in the sand that puts more pressure on the White House to fix this flawed piece of legislation.”
There are a number of higher ups within the U.S. government, including new members of congress who took seats after the midterm elections last fall, who agree that COOL may not be the best way to go. Ritz met with some of them during his visit, including chairs of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and said a growing number of them are agreeable with their stand against the issue.
As a last resort Ritz also said Canada is ready to impose retaliatory measures on U.S. imports.
“There’s a lot at stake, some 35 U.S. states have Canada as their No. 1 export market. That includes over $2 billion in U.S. beef and pork sales to Canada,” he said.
“They know that Canada stands ready to impose retaliatory tariffs on a long list of U.S. goods from beef and pork to orange juice and wine. Trade action would take a heavy toll in states like California, impacting some $600 million in trade or Texas, impacting over $300 million in trade to Canada.”
Once Canada gets the go ahead from the WTO, Ritz said they will address the billion dollars plus that COOL has been costing producers, and in effect, the Canadian economy every year since it was implemented. He insisted that our government will continue to stand with farmers, processors and industries throughout the U.S. and Mexico who agree that COOL must go.
“I’ll be back in Washington whenever it’s needed to continue these timely discussions,” he said. “We’ll do what it takes to stand up for an integrated North American livestock industry and we will not rest until the job is complete.”