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CCA Demands WTO Challenge To COOL Restarted

“This creates a whole new uncertainty.”


Canada’s agriculture minister said Feb. 25 he sees no reason at this time to revive a trade challenge against the United States based on an early assessment of its application of new meat-labelling rules.

“Right now, they’ve gone with what we’re asking for,” Gerry Ritz told reporters when asked if he was concerned about the Obama administration’s new voluntary guidelines for implementing the country-of-origin labelling

The rule requiring more explicit labels on meat sold in U. S. grocery stores initially sparked a complaint by Ottawa at the World Trade Organization.

Canada agreed in January to put that complaint on hold after Washington made the rules more flexible.

Under the Obama administration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked the U. S. industry to add the extra information voluntarily to labels. He warned he may rewrite the rule to enforce the changes if industry does not comply.

The Canadian Cattlemens’ Association said Vilsack’s guidelines, if implemented, would prompt U. S. meat packers and processors to stop buying Canadian livestock and beef to avoid the extra cost involved in complying with the new rule.

The organization urged Ritz to reactivate the WTO challenge immediately.

“This latest action by the USDA increases the already-obvious U. S. violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and WTO trade rules,” said Brad Wildeman, CCA president, in a statement.

“It‘s obvious the U. S. has no intention of creating a workable solution for the industry.”

Vilsack’s voluntary guidelines ask for: multiple country labels stating where animals were born, raised and slaughtered; labels on processed meats; a 10-day inventory window on ground beef instead of 60 days, as allowed by the rule.

The requests go beyond the wording of the final rule, which gives U. S. packers some flexibility to commingle imported animals with U. S.-born ones, said Travis Toews, who chairs CCA’s foreign trade committee.

CCA was willing to wait and see if the rule as written would hamper cattle shipments from Canada to the U. S. or not. However, Vilsack’s guidelines will probably make U. S. processors avoid buying imported animals and beef, Toews said.

As it is, a number of U. S. packing plants have either stopped accepting live cattle from Canada or are taking them only on certain days to keep them separate from domestic animals, he said.

“This creates a whole new uncertainty.”

John Masswohl, CCA’s international relations director, called Vilsack’s actions “a very negative backwards move.”

But it’s not entirely surprising, given a “political expectation” from the Democrat-dominated Congress that packers give priority to American-only meat, Masswohl said.

But Ritz said he so far saw no evidence of damage done to Canadian exporters. “We’ll keep analyzing it day by day. If they start to get tough, if it starts to affect our exports in a negative way then we’ll go back harder.”

The WTO challenge is still an option, he said. “We’ll move forward with it as soon as we see some negative responses out of their application of the country of origin labelling rules.” [email protected]

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