Canada needs to get tough over damages from COOL

It might not fit our friendly neighbour image, but it was good to hear Canadian pork producers talk tough on retaliation if the United States does not change its unfair country-of-origin-labelling rules.

COOL costs Canada’s livestock industry millions of dollars a month, and the industry is right to demand that the U.S. act quickly to comply with the World Trade Organization dispute panel’s ruling from last June.

The U.S. is our neighbour and friend, but sometimes even a friend needs a bit of a push when it comes to mending fences.

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz’s statements on the dispute have the sound of a 19th century gentleman sportsman — we’ve had frank discussions and we expect the U.S. to do the right thing.

In a world of overheated rhetoric, such a gentle prodding to comply with the referee’s call might add to Canada’s reputation of being a nice guy, but in the hurly- burly world of American political discourse, it might be lost in the din.

The U.S. administration has signaled it intends to bring COOL into compliance with the WTO ruling, but there are strong voices in the American farm community, including R-CALF and the U.S. National Farmers Union, lobbying for the changes to be minimal, making COOL match the letter of the law but not the spirit.

A little sabre rattling from north of the border will help keep the spotlight on the need for meaningful COOL changes, which is exactly what the Canadian Pork Council did by preparing and releasing a report calculating COOL’s damage to the Canadian hog industry.

As CPC president Jean-Guy Vincent told reporters the day the report was released, the council hopes the U.S. conforms to the WTO ruling peacefully.

“But we also have to send a message.”

The report by Alberta Agriculture economist Ron Geist found that COOL has cost Canadian pork producers close to $2 billion in direct damages since it was created in the farm bill of 2008 and fully implemented in March of 2009.

Additional damages from indirect impacts total hundreds of millions of dollars, and that is just the impact on the hog industry. The beef industry also suffered.

WTO rules allow tariff retaliation equal to the calculated hurt and, thanks to the CPC, we now have a dollars and cents starting point to calculate what could be the retaliation Canada is entitled to if the U.S. does not conform to the WTO ruling by the deadline of May 23.

The weight of the potential retaliation sends the strong message that Vincent demanded.

It could help tip the scale in getting the U.S. to make meaningful change.

It is not as if there are only COOL advocates in the U.S.

There are also strong critics, including the main cattle and hog producer groups — the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council. The U.S. packers association, the American Meat Institute, also counts itself among the critics of COOL.

There is also unbiased data that shows COOL has almost no impact on U.S. consumer buying.

A Kansas State University study released in December found that only 23 percent of American consumers who took part in the study’s surveys were aware of COOL. Most participants said they never look for origin information when buying fresh beef and pork products. The report also found there was no change in demand for meat products following COOL implementation.

COOL does not deliver on its promise, and with the right push the Americans can be persuaded to the do the right thing.

The Canadian pork industry is right to press the federal government to promise swift and effective retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods to help Americans make up their minds.



Stories from our other publications