COOL fallout causes concern in international hog markets

DES MOINES, Iowa — American Country of Origin Labelling should have been easy to fix, say U.S. pork producers, but missed opportunities now have the pork industry anxiously awaiting Canadian and Mexican trade retaliation.

The United States needs to get rid of its restrictive labelling law because it undermines American trade credibility around the world, National Pork Producers Council trade leaders said during the World Pork Expo.

“We need to come up with a fix. We’re very concerned,” said Iowa farmer and NPPC trade expert John Weber.

Most trade authorities expect the U.S. to lose Canada’s and Mexico’s challenge to the World Trade Organization about 2013 COOL rules that are even more restrictive and trade-distorting than the original 2009 rules.

That’s an outlook shared by NPPC.

“What we think is going to happen is . . . the United States is going to lose that case,” said Weber during a press briefing.

That will open to the door to Canadian and Mexican trade retaliation and that will probably directly hurt U.S. pork and beef sales.

Weber said it’s not hard for Canada to prove COOL has damaged cross-border trade. In 2007 about 10 million Canadian pigs entered the U.S. Now it’s only about five million.

“It’s fairly evident that the Canadians have clear evidence that (COOL) has been restrictive to pork trade,” said Weber.

Both Weber and NPPC domestic policy vice-president Audrey Adamson said flexible labelling that doesn’t interrupt trade but that lets consumers know where meat comes from is OK. But current labelling rules that require packers to note where the animal that produced the meat was born, was raised and was slaughtered goes far beyond what can be justified under trade rules because it stops packers buying foreign-born pigs.

Adamson said the U.S. is placed in the position of hypocrite when it has a law like COOL and simultaneously is negotiating free trade deals.

“This is not a meat issue any more,” said Adamson. “This is an international trade issue.”

Weber agreed.

“Certainly I think it’s in our best interest with all the trade that we do around the globe that we live up to the standards of being good partners in trade and we feel we really need a fix to (mandatory) COOL,” said Weber.

NPPC hoped that COOL could be fixed as part of the recent Farm Bill, but that didn’t happen. And earlier hopes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would improve COOL with more reasonable regulations were dashed when the 2013 revisions made the situation worse.

Now Congress will have to change the law if the WTO rules against the U.S.

“It’s going to take legislative action to get this straightened out,” said Weber.

Adamson said COOL should be reformed as soon as possible.

“As an industry that trades globally, and we’re out busy negotiating with the Trans Pacific Partnership with 12 countries around the world, we need to live up to our own obligations under the WTO,” said Adamson.

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