Canada appears to have won at least a partial victory in challenging a U.S. country-of-origin rule for labelling meat sold in grocery stores.
Media reports last week said a World Trade Organization dispute panel ruling favours a trade challenge by Canada and Mexico against the COOL regulation.
If so, it would overturn key portions of the controversial law implemented in 2009 which Canada says damages its livestock trade with the U.S.
The WTO panel issued a confidential preliminary ruling May 20 to the Canadian, Mexican and U.S. governments, as well as to a dozen countries that were third-party observers to the case.
The Bureau of National Affairs Inc., an independent legal and business publisher headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, reported the story May 24 out of Geneva, Switzerland, where the WTO is headquartered.
The BNA story cited sources as saying the panel agreed with Canada and Mexico that COOL results in imported cattle and pigs being treated less favour-ably than animals born in the U.S.
FAILS TO INFORM
It also said the panel ruled COOL did not fulfil the objective of helping to inform consumers of the origin of meat, as the U.S. claims.
The rulings are central to Canada’s two main arguments: COOL violates the WTO because it discriminates against Canadian cattle and hogs by adding extra segregation costs; and COOL is really trade protectionism masquerading as consumer information.
The U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association issued a statement saying, “COOL was a bad idea from the beginning and the preliminary WTO ruling on the original complaint filed by Canada and Mexico is proof.
“This ruling is unfortunate for the U.S. government but the consequences of a poor decision have been revealed. We fully support WTO’s preliminary ruling,” said Bill Donald, NCBA president.
Canadian government and industry officials were tight lipped about the panel’s reported finding.
“The government of Canada has received the interim confidential report and we look forward to receiving the final report,” was all Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz would say in an email to theCo-operator.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a statement it has “read with interest” the media reports and “looks forward to the final WTO report being issued later this year.”
John Masswohl, CCA’s government and international relations director, said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement not to comment on the ruling until it is public. He said he himself had not seen the report as of last week.
The U.S. ranchers’ group R-CALF, which supports COOL, denounced the WTO preliminary decision.
In a statement headlined “America’s Sovereignty Attacked by World Trade Organization,” R-CALF called the ruling “a wake-up call to every U.S. family.”
“If U.S. citizens no longer have the right to have a label on their food that informs them of where their food came from, then our sovereign rights as citizens of this great nation have already been eroded,” said Mike Schultz, R-CALF’s COOl committee chair.
Masswohl said Canada isn’t trying to get rid of COOL, only to prevent packers’ forced segregation of animals that add extra costs and depress prices to Canadian producers.
“Ultimately what we are seeking is to change that portion of the legislation that requires that segregation to occur.”
Masswohl said the final report should be released confidentially in late July. It will become public a few weeks later after it is translated into French and Spanish.
The losing side has 60 days to appeal. A final appeal decision could come by mid-2012, Masswohl said. [email protected]