Cattle groups fear return of COOL

Cattle producer organizations, throughout North America, are worried that NAFTA renegotiations could provide an opportunity for the United States to re-introduce mandatory Country of Origin Labelling.

On May 18, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress that President Donald Trump’s administration plans to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

NAFTA negotiations could begin in 90 days, or Aug. 16 at the earliest, now that the notification is official.

The move isn’t surprising because Trump threatened many times, to pull the U.S. out of the 23-year-old trade deal unless better terms could be negotiated for U.S. companies and workers.

Many U.S. farm and commodity groups support NAFTA and they’re worried that new talks could disrupt a deal that’s been beneficial for farmers.

“Exports are one pillar of a strong farm economy, accounting for 31 percent of farmer income,” said National Corn Growers Association president Wesley Spurlock, in a May 18 statement.

“Nowhere is the importance of trade stronger than right here in North America. Since NAFTA was implemented, U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have tripled and quintupled, respectively.”

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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in the U.S. echoed those comments. The NCBA, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones in Mexico sent a joint letter to Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena.

The letter encouraged the leaders to preserve unlimited and duty-free trade of beef between the three countries.

“We believe that our economies will be stronger under NAFTA than without NAFTA. We urge you not to jeopardize the success of the men, women and families engaged in the cattle and beef industries of each of our countries, who depend on the success that market access provides under NAFTA.”

The letter also urged U.S. trade negotiators to learn from “mistakes of the past” and not use the process to bring back COOL.

“(It) failed to deliver its proponents’ promise to increase consumer demand or consumer confidence. Instead, it created massive disruptions in live cattle trade that hurt beef producers across North America and jeopardized the jobs of American workers that depend on processing those cattle.”

COOL was law in the U.S. for about seven years. Canadian pork and beef producers complained the regulation unfairly discriminated against against Canadian products and violated international trade rules.

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Canada, along with Mexico, took their case to the World Trade Organization. In December of 2015, after the WTO ruled for Canada and Mexico several times, the U.S. Congress finally repealed COOL.

Beef, corn and other commodity groups in the U.S. support existing NAFTA rules, but the National Milk Producers Association does not.

In a May 18 statement, it commended the Trump administration and asked the U.S. Trade Representative to challenge Canada’s “protectionist policies” around dairy products.

“Obviously, dairy trade with Canada, where we continue to face 200 percent, 300 percent tariffs and a slew of nontariff policies that distort dairy trade, is an entirely different story,” Jim Mulhern, president of NMPF.  “We need to address it as part of these talks. Central to any successful NAFTA negotiations will be changes to Canada’s new policies designed to harm bilateral trade and dump their structural dairy surplus on the world market.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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