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Still waiting for the U.S. to respond to COOL ruling

The pivotal day in getting action on a ruling by the World Trade Organization that U.S. American country-of-origin labelling (COOL) program discriminates against Canadian livestock is shaping up to be Oct. 2.

That’s the day when the WTO will impose a deadline for the U.S. to amend the offensive provisions in COOL, says John Masswohl, director of government and international relations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. However, it could be well into next year before the matter is completely settled.

It’s possible the U.S., Canada and Mexico could agree in talks by Sept. 6 on how the issue will be settled, but Masswohl thinks that’s unlikely to happen.

The WTO ruled in late June that the U.S. measure was inconsistent with international trade rules. Under WTO notification procedures, the decision became official July 23. By Aug. 22, the U.S. must officially tell the WTO whether it will comply.

It would be highly unusual if Washington didn’t, especially in light of how often it initiates actions under the rules of the world trade body, he says. Failure to comply would expose the U.S. to retaliation, likely in the form of duties on American imports, from Canada and Mexico.

COOL is part of the U.S. Farm Bill, which is the subject of considerable debate in Washington these days. Masswohl says the current bill will expire at the end of September. If the House and Senate can’t agree on a new bill, they will likely pass an extension to the current one rather than let farm supports lapse in an election year.

Since the WTO ruling was released, Canadian officials have discussed the handling of the issue with the CCA, the Canadian Pork Council, the Canadian Meat Council and other interested industry groups. There has also been a lot of discussion among the three governments as well.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says Canada wants an end to the discrimination against its livestock and meat products as soon as possible.

Since the start of COOL’s labelling and tracking system in 2008, Canadian livestock and meat sales to the U.S. have dropped by about 50 per cent. Canada tried consultations with the U.S. in 2009 and when that failed to resolve the impasse, took the issue to the WTO.

COOL has cost hog producers at least $1.4 billion during the last five years while the CCA says beef producers are losing about $150 million a year because of it.

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