A World Trade Organization arbitrator on Tuesday ruled that the United States has until May 23, 2013 to bring its country of origin labeling
(COOL) measure on livestock imports from Canada and Mexico into compliance with its WTO obligations.
The WTO ruled June 29 that the United States’ COOL unfairly discriminated against Canada and Mexico because it gave less favorable treatment to beef and pork imported from those countries than to U.S. meat.
“The labeling program has led to a sharp reduction in U.S. imports of Canadian pigs and cattle, because it forced U.S. packers to segregate those animals from U.S. livestock at greater cost,” said a report by Reuters
. “Some U.S. groups, however, have said COOL offers consumers valuable information about the origin of their food.”
In the June ruling, the WTO gave the United States an unspecified amount of time to comply. The United States had been arguing for an 18-month implementation period while Canada and Mexico, which brought the case, sought a six- to eight-month period (which would have put the implementation date at somewhere between January and March).
COOL is a mandatory U.S. labeling measure, introduced in 2008, that forced the livestock industry in Canada to implement what Canada deems “a burdensome labeling and tracking system.”
Between 2008 and 2009, exports to the United States of Canadian feeder cattle declined 49 percent and exports of slaughter hogs declined 58 percent, Canadian trade officials said, adding that created unpredictability in the market and imposed additional costs on producers.
“Our government has stood firm with our cattle and hog producers against the unfair country-of-origin labelling of the U.S.,” Canada’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a joint statement. “The WTO Appellate Body has recognized the integrated nature of the North American supply chain and marked a clear win for our livestock industry.
“We expect that the U.S. will bring itself into compliance with its WTO obligations by May 2013 as determined by the arbitrator for the benefit of producers on both sides of the border. We are particularly pleased that the arbitrator determined a reasonable period of time close to that proposed by Canada and Mexico, as opposed to the much longer period suggested by the United States.”
The United States has interpreted the WTO ruling in June to mean it can continue to enforce COOL as long as it doesn’t represent an “impermissible trade barrier,” according to the Reuters
"The United States remains committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with information about the origin of the beef and pork products they buy at the retail level," Nkenge Harmon, a spokesperson for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, said Tuesday. "We intend to bring the COOL requirements into compliance within the period of time established by the arbitrator, and we will continue to work with USDA, Congress, and interested stakeholders in order to do so." - Eric Johnson