CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — For many frustrated Canadian cattle and hog producers, the seemingly endless and complex legal wranglings over country-of-origin labelling are less important than when the fight will end.
The latest round involves appealing a revision of the United States rule that demands labels must indicate where cattle and hogs were born, raised and slaughtered. This was in response to an original complaint to the World Trade Organization that agreed the law was discriminatory.
The WTO decision on the latest version of COOL is expected in September. It deals with whether a United States revision of the law is acceptable. Canada and Mexico argued it still discriminates against their livestock and is even more difficult to comply with than the original rule.
Canada is confident the WTO will agree with them in this second round of trade challenges, but that allows the U.S. to appeal again.
Canada’s next move could be retaliatory tariffs on a long list of products, but duties can’t be applied until later in 2015, said Doug Forsyth, head of strategic trade policy division with Agriculture Canada.
“Our hope is we never have to use it, but it is a very useful negotiating tool,” he told the foreign trade committee at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association semi-annual meeting in Charlottetown Aug. 13-16.
The list of eligible goods was published June 2013 and is still open for public comment, said Forsyth.
Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz promised the government will not relent.
“Canada will not blink on COOL,” he said at the meeting.
“We will continue to hammer on the economic message, because that’s what resonates.”
A recent U.S. court ruling that turned down an appeal for a temporary injunction has no bearing on the trade challenge.
“That recent ruling has no impact on the WTO process that has repeatedly declared the rule discriminates against Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs,” said Ritz.
Further, more non-agricultural groups like manufacturing groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pressing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to rescind the law and allow commerce to continue, he said.
A recently published blog by Linda Dempsey, vice-president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, and John Murphy, senior vice-president for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned against the cost of the tariffs to Americans.
“This would severely damage the ability of manufacturers, farmers and ranchers to export, undoubtedly hurting American jobs and economic opportunities. Our competitors in foreign countries would quickly fill the void,” they wrote.