COOL back from the dead after election

A trade issue that bedevilled Canadian livestock producers for much of a decade may be making a comeback.

CNN reported last week that a memo from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team suggests making mandatory country-of-origin labelling a trade focus for the new administration, along with renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

COOL is estimated to have cost the livestock industry $1 billion in export losses, and any return to such a policy would be sure to create consternation in Canada.

However, Gary Stordy of the Canadian Pork Council stressed that such a move is just speculation.

“It is a bit too early to react to the information available at this point,” he said.

Trump has presented a more protectionist stance, but nothing will happen right away.

The rumour is linked to a leaked document from the president-elect’s transition team but does not indicate policy.

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“These type of letters are not necessarily a decision letter but more for the transition team sending information to department officials within the existing administration,” Stordy said.

There has always been a possibility that the labelling law could return in some form, said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“There will be lots of process involved and we’ll see it coming from miles out,” he said.

A lengthy battle before the World Trade Organization about the law that required extensive labelling on beef and pork products resulted in Canada and Mexico winning the case, which gave the government the right to impose retaliatory tariffs.

The U.S. repealed the bill, but there are still elected officials who favour a voluntary labelling law.

“If they do something that replicates the discrimination, our view is that Canada should be in a position to put those tariffs in immediately,” said Masswohl.

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In the meantime, cattle and hog producers are working with their American counterparts to influence the new government and prevent a revised law from appearing.

“There is a recognition on both sides of the border that the way COOL was implemented in the past just was not helpful,” Stordy said.

“It hurt both sides of the industry. It was cumbersome as well as quite costly.”

Commodity groups are also waiting to see what the new president proposes to Congress after the inauguration in January.

There are many elected representatives who are familiar with COOL and its implications if a new labelling proposal goes back to Congress for consideration, said Stordy.

In a published document called the Contract with the American Voter, Trump stated a desire to change trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement under Article 2205. He also promised to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and instead focus on domestic needs.

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He also appointed Charles Herbster in July to lead his agriculture and rural advisory committee. Herbster owns Herbster Angus Farm and other business interests in Nebraska.