COOL demise a costly victory for Canadian producers

It took eight years and billions of dollars, but ultimately trade law prevailed in securing the labelling law’s repeal

UPDATED: Dec. 29 – After nearly eight years and millions of dollars spent fighting it at the World Trade Organization and billions in lower prices for Canadian beef and hog producers, the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling program has been repealed.

The end came Dec. 18 when both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a massive omnibus appropriations bill that included provisions to end COOL. President Obama ratified the bill ending the prospect of a trade war with Canada and Mexico.

“Challenging COOL has been a long and expensive fight for Canadian livestock producers,” said Rick Bergmann, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council. “We look forward to closing the book on this dispute.”

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“This is fantastic news for Canada’s beef cattle producers,” added Dave Solverson, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. Canada opposed COOL from the start “because the U.S. failed to live up to its international trade obligations. The cumulative losses for the Canadian beef and pork sectors have been staggering.”

Earlier this month, the WTO authorized about $1.1 billion in retaliatory tariffs for Canada and $230 million for Mexico if the U.S. failed to terminate COOL.

The livestock groups thanked the federal government for its support and praised former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz for championing the farmers’ case from the start.

Lawrence MacAulay, the current agriculture minister, told reporters the government would closely monitor the situation “to ensure that the incentives to discriminate against Canadian cattle and hogs are quickly removed from the marketplace. We look forward to the restoration of full access to the U.S. market for Canada’s beef and pork, benefiting our farmers and our economy.

He and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland noted that despite the torturous path the dispute took, “The outcome also demonstrates the importance of the World Trade Organization as a dispute settlement body.

“The decision is a reflection of Canada’s renewed and collaborative approach to our vital relationship with the United States and Mexico. It is a demonstration of our commitment to working closely with our North American partners to advance our shared prosperity.”

The CCA spent close to $4 million in legal fees campaigning against COOL at the WTO and in the United States while the tab for the pork council was in the million-dollar range. Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a request for the government’s expenses in the long battle, which included four clear rulings by the WTO that COOL violated international trade rules the U.S. was instrumental in writing.

U.S. COOL has been in effect since 2008 as a consumer information measure. However, it required extensive and expensive tracking and labelling for all imported meat and livestock.

At every step of the process, the WTO has repeatedly found that the U.S. is in breach of its WTO obligations. The only revision the U.S. has made, in 2013, increased the negative impact on Canadian farmers and meat processors.

Canada had claimed that COOL was inflicting about $3 billion annually in lower prices and lost marketing opportunities on its farmers.

It had served notice that retaliatory tariffs could be imposed on beef, pork, apples, rice, corn, maple syrup, wine, jewelry, wooden furniture and mattresses.

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