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WTO Arguments In COOL Case Wrap Up

Canadian livestock groups headed home from Geneva last week expressing confidence about winning a World Trade Organization challenge to the U.S. country-of-origin food labelling rule.

Both the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council said they were satisfied Canada presented a WTO dispute panel with a strong case against COOL during the second and final round of oral arguments.

“We feel very good,” said John Masswohl, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association government and international relations director.

“There’s nothing that I would look back and say, we could have done this better, we should have done that differently.”

Last week’s WTO session capped two years’ preparation by Canada to argue against the U.S. rule requiring retail meat to be labelled according to its country of origin.

Canada says COOL has substantially changed the rules of competition for imported livestock by requiring U.S. packers to separate them from domestic livestock, resulting in extra costs and price discounts. As a result, Canada exports fewer animals to the U.S. for lower returns.

The U.S. argues COOL aims only at informing consumers where their food comes from and does not require segregation of animals.

But Masswohl said Canada presented evidence to show segregation is a logical consequence of the rule and that’s exactly what U.S. packers do.

He said the U.S. argued packers can use a mixed-origin label for meat and do not have to specify where the product originated.

But Canada showed that U.S. packers intended to use the mixed-origin label when COOL came into effect and were told by their government not to, Masswohl said.

Even if COOL were only intended to inform consumers, the rule is still trade distorting and the U.S. failed to show otherwise, said Martin Rice, Canadian Pork Council executive director.

“I don’t think they were particularly persuasive in terms of the justification for them to have this COOL law operate in the way it does,” said Rice.

“I don’t think they were very convincing in demonstrating that they took the least trade-distorting approach to implementing country-of-origin labelling.”

Canada and the U.S. have one more opportunity to make their respective cases. The WTO panel was scheduled this week to issue followup questions for written responses. Both sides have two weeks to respond and until January 6 to comment on the other’s responses.

Then the panel gets down to deliberating the case. A decision is scheduled for July 2011. [email protected]

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