Canada pressures U.S. to repeal COOL legislation

A Canadian agriculture contingent is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., June 1-2 to press the case for repeal of U.S. country-of-origin labelling legislation.

The World Trade Organization issued a fourth ruling May 18 confirming COOL discriminates against Canadian cattle and hogs. As a result, Canada and Mexico will soon be in a position to impose retaliatory tariffs on American goods, which has attracted attention from U.S. lawmakers.

One of the first moves occurred May 20, when the agriculture committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted 38-6 to repeal COOL.

However, the full House and the U.S. Senate would have to vote in favour of the resolution before COOL can be repealed or otherwise amended to come into compliance with international trade rules.

“We weren’t worried about the House,” Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Dave Solverson said May 22. “It was nice to see that convincing 38-6 vote, but we need consensus on the Senate side.”

He said he plans to accompany federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz to Washington next week to meet with U.S. officials.

Rick Bergmann, chair of the Canadian Pork Council, said he also intends to visit Washington in one of two trips regarding COOL.

Bergmann said the U.S. House agriculture committee vote was an encouraging sign.

“It’s great that they’re to the point where they’re discussing and voting and understanding the damage that it has done for both countries,” said Bergmann.

He said the WTO ruling indicates repeal is the only option for the U.S.

“The wiggle room on changing it, as I see it, has ended.”

Solverson has a similar opinion about revision versus repeal. Some factions have suggested a North American label as a compromise to COOL, which requires labels indicating animals’ place of birth, feeding and slaughter.

“None of those compromises really work for the whole industry,” said Solverson.

The Canadian beef and pork industries estimate COOL has cost them an estimated $1 billion per year in lost markets and sales of cattle and hogs since the labelling law was fully implemented.

Canada’s list of items on which to impose 100 percent tariffs will be designed to extract at least an equal amount of financial damage to the U.S. if they are implemented.

Ritz and meat industry players have repeatedly said a repeal of COOL is preferable to the imposition of retaliatory tariffs.

“We would be prepared to drop it if it were repealed or if COOL was resolved to our satisfaction,” Solverson said.

Added Bergmann: “They’re our neighbours.… It would be really too bad if it would come to that, but there’s been so much discriminatory hurt in all of this. Certainly we wouldn’t want to retaliate, but there are some times in this life that we do things that we don’t want to do, but we know that they need to be done.”

The list of commodities targeted for retaliatory tariffs goes before the WTO dispute settlement body next week, and tariffs could be in place by August or September.

Canada and Mexico have to provide figures to the WTO on the level of losses experienced under COOL. Ritz has cited a figure of $2.5 to $3 billion.

However, the U.S. is likely to dispute those figures.

R-CALF USA and the U.S. National Farmers Union continue lobbying to protect COOL. They say Congress should consult with the administration to determine whether to bring the law into compliance or initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico to arrive at mutually acceptable compensation.

However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council are among those in the U.S. to urge repeal of COOL to avoid the imposition of tariffs.

In Canada, Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said he was not surprised by the WTO’s favour-able ruling on COOL but was nevertheless pleased.

“Nothing happens quickly in the U.S. system, but we will be reinforcing the position that we’ve taken all along, since 2008, with both houses (of Congress).”

He said COOL has resulted in closure of seven U.S. packing plants and the loss of about 9,000 jobs.

“I think at first blush, when consumers hear about labelling, they’re all for it, but I don’t think they want to see 9,000 people put out of work and they don’t want to see packing plants close and I don’t think they want to see a trade war,” he said.

“I don’t think consumers in the U.S. understand the full impact of COOL and I think their legislators have seen it as an advantage to them to see that they don’t ever understand that.”

In Alberta, Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said he welcomed the WTO ruling and called COOL “misguided, protectionist rules” that don’t serve American consumers or producers.

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