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Canada Requests WTO Panel on US M-COOL

by 5m Editor
8 October 2009, at 8:44am

CANADA - The Canadian government has announced its intention to file for a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process over the US mandatory country-of-origin labeling (M-COOL) law that went into effect on 16 March 2009.

"The US COOL requirements are so onerous that they affect the ability of our cattle and hog exporters to compete fairly in the US market,” said Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. “That is why our government has no choice but to request a WTO panel. This request demonstrates our ongoing commitment to resolving this issue and defending the interests of Canadian producers.”

COOL is a US labeling law that mandates country of origin information, through signs, labels, etc., regarding certain fresh meat products, e.g. steaks, ground beef, and pork chops, as well as certain fresh chicken products that are sold in retail stores. Meat and chicken products sold in restaurants, as well as processed products, are exempt from the law.

The Canadian government is arguing that the provisions of COOL impose unfair and unnecessary costs on integrated North American supply chains, reducing competitiveness in both Canada and the US. Many on both sides of the border have argued that it has created confusion and uncertainty for livestock industries.

"Canadian farmers and ranchers produce top-quality food, and they are facing unfair discrimination because of COOL legislation," said Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board. "This government is standing up for Canadian farmers and ranchers by exercising Canada’s rights under the WTO, and we are confident our challenge will be successful."

Canada’s request for a panel comes after two rounds of WTO consultations with the US failed to resolve the issue. Panels are the next step in the WTO’s dispute settlement process.

The US and Canada are each other’s largest agricultural trading partners. In 2008, bilateral agricultural trade totaled approximately $37 billion. Reducing obstacles to trade has contributed to mutually beneficial supply chains, making both countries more competitive domestically and internationally.

USDA responds to Canada's request

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk yesterday issued a statement regarding Canada's request to establish a dispute settlement panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"We regret that formal consultations have not been successful in resolving Canada's concerns over country of origin labeling (COOL) required by the 2008 Farm Bill for certain agricultural products," the statement read.

"We believe that our implementation of COOL provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization commitments."

They said countries have agreed since long before the existence of the WTO that country of origin labeling is a legitimate policy. It is common for other countries to require that goods be labeled as to their origin.

"We hope to continue to work with Canada to resolve this issue amicably," they concluded.