Canada has revived a complaint at the World Trade Organization about a U. S. meat-labelling law that Canadian producers have complained has hurt their hog and cattle sales, Canada’s Trade Minister Stockwell Day said April 27.
Canada has complained a new mandatory rule that meat packers include the country of origin of their products on labels has curbed sales of Canadian livestock because of added costs for U. S. packers, hurting prices for Canadian producers.
“I’ve informed Ambassador (Ron) Kirk that we will move forward with the (WTO) consultation,” Day said, noting the complaint will move into a 60-day consultation period.
“By giving formal notification of a consultation period, it says, ‘We think this is off-side and we want the consultation period to begin,’” he told reporters.
Canada normally exports about $4 billion a year of hogs and cattle to the United States.
Canada filed a complaint about the law at the World Trade Organization last year, but suspended it in January after the U. S. government made the final version more flexible.
But before the law went into effect on March 16, U. S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned meat packers he would rewrite it unless they voluntarily made labels more explicit.
Day said he also raised concerns about U. S. state and municipal government implementation of Buy American provisions in the recently passed U. S. stimulus bill. Some local governments appear to be implementing the provisions in a way that disadvantage Canadian companies, he said.
The Buy American provision generally requires public works projects funded by the economic stimulus bill to use only U. S.-made steel, iron and other manufactured goods.
But at President Barack Obama’s insistence, lawmakers added language so countries which have a free trade pact with the United States or which have signed onto the World Trade Organization’s government procurement pact would still be able take part in projects.
However, discr iminat ion against Canadian companies has already appeared on some U. S. projects, prompting at least one Canadian city government to press for a ban on U. S. companies doing business in Canada’s public works sector, Day said.
Ottawa has been under intense pressure from livestock groups to reactivate the COOl challenge ever since Vilsack’s warning in a letter to U. S. meat processors.
The secretary’s letter may have speeded up the revived challenge, said John Masswohl, international relations director for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
“It’s created a new element of uncertainty,” he said.
Masswohl said Vilsack may have issued his warning without thinking it through. He said federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz asked Vilsack about his intentions during a recent meeting and “(t)he minister didn’t think that the secretary had an end game in mind.”
Producers welcomed the government’s action, saying COOl has no justification.
“COOL is pure and simply political. It has nothing to do with any food safety issue,” said John Preun, Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op chairman.
(With files from Ron Friesen)