Canada takes COOL to WTO

“… a needless and expensive thickening of the border.”

– Gerry Ritz

Canada has launched a WTO trade action against the U. S. mandatory country-of-origin meat labelling rule.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Stockwell Day made the announcement at a news conference in Ottawa Monday.

The Canadian government has initiated formal consultations with the U. S. regarding COOL under the WTO’s dispute settlement process. Consultations are the first step toward a full-blown trade action. The U. S. and Canada have 30 days to settle the issue before the challenge becomes official.

The move has been widely expected since the federal election campaign this fall. In a televised agriculture debate during the campaign, Ritz said Ottawa has “been very outspoken on our opposition to COOL legislation in the U. S. to the point of telling them bluntly that we will initiate a WTO panel when and if that comes in the way that we think it may.”

Ritz made the remarks Sept. 29, one day before COOL took effect.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council have held Ritz’s feet to the fire ever since, demanding he make good on his promise.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture is phasing in COOL and will not actually start enforcing it until the end of March 2009.

But already U. S. packing plants are refusing to accept Canadian slaughter cattle and hogs because they have to segregate them from Americanborn animals. Either that, or plants are taking Canadian livestock only on certain days.

U. S. feedlots are still placing Canadian-born cattle and weanling pigs are still going south for finishing. But that could change when the USDA’s enforcement period approaches.

Canada last year exported $3 billion worth of beef and pork to the U. S.

COOL has thrown the Canadian livestock industry into a tailspin, reducing exports and depressing prices because of limited access to the U. S. market.

In printed notes at the news conference, Ritz called COOL “a needless and expensive thickening of the border that is harmful for the industry on both sides of the line.”

COOL will hurt the competitiveness of both the Canadian and U. S. packing industries and will drive down prices for Canadian producers, said Ritz.

“COOL simply doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground,” he said. “We have an integrated North American herd where individual animals often cross borders numerous times. Free and fair trade is essential to the economic health of livestock industries on both sides of the border.” [email protected]

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