Federal gov’t strikes back against COOL

Beef, pork, fruit and alcohol are on Canada’s list of items subject to potential retaliatory tariffs if the United States refuses to amend its country-of-origin labelling rules.

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz announced the list during a June 7 news conference, noting it is a pressure tactic designed to force U.S. action before tariffs are applied.

“These retaliatory measures, should we be forced to bring them into effect, will affect our producers and consumers on both sides of the border,” said Ritz.

“It’s by no means our preferred course of action, but we will continue to stand with Canadian cattle and hog producers against mandatory country-of-origin labelling.”

COOL legislation, which requires segregation and separate labelling of Canadian livestock and meat products, has cost the domestic cattle and hog industries an estimated $1 billion per year since it was enacted in late 2008.

Canada and Mexico won a ruling from the World Trade Organization indicating COOL contravened trade agreements. The U.S. amended the legislation in late May, but changes were widely considered to be worse than the original and more damaging to Canadian livestock producers.

The changes are now subject to adjudication by the WTO.

“These costs are set to rise under the new amendment to an estimated $90 to $100 per head, compared with the $25 to $40 per head hit that we currently take today,” said Canadian Cattlemen’s Association vice-president Dave Solverson.

“This is simply unacceptable.”

Jurgen Preugschas, past chair of the Canadian Pork Council, said the May changes to COOL have already resulted in a 15 percent reduction in live hog exports to the U.S.

“(It) is going to put even more farmers out of business,” said Preugschas.

Ritz said Mexico is preparing its own list of U.S. products that will be subject to tariffs. Both lists will be submitted to the WTO before they can be implemented, a process Ritz said can take 18 to 24 months. The WTO has the authority to alter the list.

However, Ritz said release of the list now is designed to get the attention of U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agriculture committees.

“This situation could have been avoided if the U.S. had complied with the WTO decision, and still can be. Today we renew our call on the U.S. to abide by the letter and spirit of the WTO ruling,” Ritz said.

“The whole point of this is to put enough political pressure on the administration of the United States to take this seriously and actually make the changes long before that WTO process.”

Canada is the number one importer of U.S. products. Asked if the COOL fight was one of David versus Goliath, Ritz had a ready answer.

“If you read your Bible, you’ll find out that David won that fight, so we take solace in that. We know we’re on the side of the angels on this one.”

He reiterated that COOL is an unnecessary trade barrier that harms livestock producers on both sides of the border. Continued implementation will also jeopardize thousands of American jobs in feedlots and slaughter plants as fewer Canadian cattle and hogs are exported.

Those are among the reasons why the U.S. based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Meat Council and other U.S. industry groups also oppose COOL.

Release of the list received a positive response from Canadian livestock groups and the Canadian Meat Council.

Manitoba MLA Ralph Eichler, the Progressive Conservative agriculture critic, put forward a resolution at the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders (SARL) meeting in Vancouver earlier this week. It said in part, that “SARL encourages the United States Congress to implement a legislative resolution that will build markets for U.S. producers at home and overseas rather than implement additional regulations.” The resolution was to be submitted to the U.S. house and senate ag committees and to agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack.

SARL comprises members from federal, provincial and state governments and livestock organizations and agri-business industries from both countries.

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