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WTO ruling on COOL kept under wraps

Canada, Mexico and U.S. officials have received a confidential report on the Country-of-Origin-Labeling ruling

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Countries involved in the trade dispute over the U.S. Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) law that requires meat to be labeled to include information on where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered, have been informed of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on the case.

In an emailed statement, a media relations representative for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Claude Rocon, explained the process of trade dispute verdicts from the WTO. “It is standard WTO practice for the disputing parties to get a confidential interim report from a panel,” she said.

The parties involved – Canada, Mexico and the United States governments are in possession of the report on COOL from the WTO compliance panel. The full report is expected to be released sometime in the late summer or early fall 2014, Rocon confirms.

The COOL rule, also known as (mCOOL), m which stands for mandatory, obliges retailers to provide a meat label for beef, pork and lamb products: “Born in Canada, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States,” would be one example.

The U.S. meat labeling law is blamed for discriminating against out of country meat and livestock from Canada and Mexico, reducing the amount of exports to the United States by about half since 2008. Canadian livestock groups argue that the COOL rule undermines their competitiveness, which is causing them about $1-billion a year in losses.

Most U.S. companies including, Tyson Foods Inc., have reduced or stopped buying Canadian and Mexican livestock because they can’t afford to sort, label and store meat differently from other countries than the meat from domestic (U.S.) livestock.

According to Rocon, after the report is public, it will either be adopted by the WTO or appealed (and then adopted after the appeal). If the U.S. is found to have continued to violate its WTO obligations, Canada and Mexico would then have the opportunity to retaliate.

The Canadian government has already published a list of American products that could have retaliatory tariffs sanctioned against them if the WTO ruling finds the U.S. is still not meeting its international trade responsibilities. The full list can be found on the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada website.

Hypothetically, if the U.S. is found in violation, it could see an arbitration (which is not subject to an appeal) for the amount of the retaliation. This process could take up to six months to complete.

Timeline - Country of Origin Labelling (COOL):

•  2002 – Mandatory country of origin wording was included in the U.S. Farm Bill
•  2003 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture created a rule requiring labeling that said where production points occurred in various countries i.e. born, raised and slaughtered
•  2008 – U.S. Congress introduced amendments in 2008 Farm Bill that aimed at addressing  ways to make COOL less of an issue
•  2009 – COOL rule took effect
•  2009 – Canada and Mexico file a complaint against the U.S. to the WTO making the case that COOL violates  trade commitments
•  2011 – WTO sides in favour of Canada and Mexico
•  2012 – WTO finds U.S. out of compliance
•  2012 – The WTO sets a compliance date for the U.S. (May 23, 2013)
•  2013 – The dispute remains unresolved 

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