After an eight-year legal battle, Canada and Mexico have finally defeated the United States’ “discriminatory” country of origin labelling (COOL) law.
On May 18, the World Trade Organization confirmed that COOL discriminates against live imports of Canadian cattle and hogs. It was the fourth and final appeal from the U.S., which lost each previous appeal along the way.
“It’s the process they have and they made use of it, delaying this as long as they could,” said federal Agriculture Minister and Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Gerry Ritz. “They’ve now recognized that this particular policy in a mandatory way does not serve their own industry or their own consumers. The chief economist for the United States Department of Agriculture actually said that in a report a short time ago and that has certainly helped us get to this point.”
After watching the U.S. swivel its way out of repealing the law for the last eight years, though, the Canadian government is in no mood to wait for changes much longer.
“We have begun a process of retaliatory measures just to keep the pressure on and make sure they understand that we’re still serious about seeing this ridiculous piece of political legislation repealed,” Ritz said.
Those measures involve placing significant tariffs on many American products, especially ones that come predominantly from states in which lawmakers supported COOL, such as Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.
“We’ve listed 38 different items, including California wine, which is about a $400 to $500 million a year market for them in Canada. So you start to attach tariffs, which drives them out of the marketplace. They’re serious about seeing this result,” said Ritz.
For years, supporters of COOL argued that consumers have the right to know where their meat comes from. Canada and Mexico countered that the bill violated international trade law and that COOL offered no benefit for food safety and was instead meant to keep foreign meat off the grocery shelves.
See “COOL,” Page 11
The Canadian government estimates that COOL has cost its pork and beef industries about $1 billion annually. If imposed, the retaliatory measures could set tariffs at a similar amount.
Dave Solverson, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), called the ruling “an incredibly important and historic day for Canada’s cattle industry.”
“On behalf of the people who operate Canada’s 68,500 beef farms, I thank the Government of Canada for standing firm against the unfair discrimination of U.S. COOL and ensuring the U.S. meets its international trade obligations,” he said.
Though a precise timeline remains unknown, Ritz says he expects American legislation to repeal COOL to come quickly.
“They’re facing a week off and Memorial Day happens down there, which changes the timeline somewhat. But I had a good, frank discussion with Chairman (Michael) Conaway (on Tuesday) and he understands the timeline and how serious we are about seeing that expedited.”
Conaway heads the House Agricultural Committee in the U.S. and represents Texas in the congress. Ritz added that Conaway has already brought forth legislation to help end COOL, but several steps remain before that can happen.
After exhausting all of their legal options through the WTO, the Americans appear ready to cooperate with the ruling this time.
“We flaunt our country’s obligations under the rules-based trading system at our peril,” John Murphy, a senior vice-president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a release. “American farmers, workers and companies will not be able to sell their goods and services to those (non-U.S.) consumers if we fail to live up to these rules ourselves.”