It’s back to the WTO in battle over U.S. labelling law

Ottawa asks world trade body to investigate, saying recent amendments have made the COOL law more harmful and unfair

Ottawa has asked the World Trade Organization to form a compliance panel to look into the U.S. refusal to follow its order to stop discriminating against Canadian and Mexican livestock.

“Canada considers that the U.S. has failed to bring its country-of-origin labelling measure into conformity with its WTO obligations,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast said in a joint statement.

The WTO ordered the U.S. to revise the so-called COOL law, but Washington instead changed it so that muscle cuts from livestock from different countries can no longer be commingled. That made the law worse, said critics.

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US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

“We believe that the recent amendments to the COOL measure will further hinder the ability of Canadian cattle and hog producers to freely compete in the U.S. market,” the ministers said.

The compliance panel could be composed of the WTO panel members who last year ruled COOL was discriminatory, said Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

That and the facts behind Canada’s case give his organization confidence about the outcome, he said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of meat and livestock organizations from the U.S., Canada and Mexico will continue its lawsuit against COOL, he said. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent implementation of the amended U.S. COOL regulation pending resolution of a coalition lawsuit filed in July.

Livestock groups have spent millions of dollars in legal and other costs fighting COOL, and say the law has cut U.S. imports of Canadian hogs by 41 per cent and imports of cattle by 46 per cent. The cost to Canada’s livestock sector from lower sales, depressed prices, and added costs exceeds $1 billion per year, they estimate.

“We are already seeing evidence that the amended COOL regulations will increase these damages,” said Jean-Guy Vincent, chair of the Canadian Pork Council.

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