by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) — Canada filed a request with the World Trade Organization on Thursday to slap as much as C$3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products over country-of-origin labels for meat.
Canada's minister for international trade, Ed Fast, and minister of agriculture, Gerry Ritz, issued a joint statement declaring Canada's request before the WTO would be considered by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body June 17.
Ritz said on a press call Thursday that the WTO has informed Canada that such retaliatory measures could be brought later this summer. Ritz also said a full repeal of COOL is the only option to avoid retaliation.
“Canada has been clear and consistent in our intention to retaliate should the U.S. continue to ignore its international trade obligations and not fix COOL immediately,” he said.
A bill to repeal COOL could come to the floor of the House of Representatives as early as next week. However, no similar bill so far has been drafted in the Senate.
Canadian officials have pounded on the issue of COOL since the labeling provision went into effect in 2009. Under the USDA rule, meat at retail cases must be labeled where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Canada and Mexico sued under the WTO, arguing the COOL rules have led to discrimination of Canadian and Mexican livestock. Repeated rulings by the WTO have come down against the U.S., including the latest ruling by a WTO appellate body last month in Canada and Mexico's favor.
Based on a study, Canadian officials argue that its livestock industry has suffered C$3 billion ($2.4 billion) in damages annually because of COOL. That runs counter to arguments made by U.S. COOL supporters who claim Canadian officials have greatly inflated the impact of the label on Canadian imports.
Mexican officials are seeking potentially $653 million in retaliatory measures on U.S. products.
Last year, Canada listed 38 agricultural products involving more than C$8 billion ($6.4 billion) in U.S. agricultural exports that could be affected.
Ritz has been in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with groups that support repeal and pushing for the House of Representatives to vote on its legislation.
“The WTO has ruled that the United States is out of options and out of time,” Ritz said. “The only way for the United States to avoid billions in immediate retaliation is to repeal COOL.”
Ron Prestage, a pork producer from the Carolinas who is president of the National Pork Producers Council, said this week at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines that the pork industry wants to move beyond mandatory country-of-origin labels.
“It's my hope that we're successful and we are working very hard to get Congress to repeal m-COOL so that it's not something that further devastates our export markets because of Canada and Mexico retaliating for us being out of compliance with our WTO obligations,” Prestage said.
He added, “We're hoping that, before there's blood on the floor, that we're successful getting that law repealed.”
The pork producers and groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have been long-standing opponents of COOL while some other groups such as the National Farmers Union have defended the law. Last week, the American Farm Bureau Federation declared its support for a bill that moved out of the House Agriculture Committee that would repeal COOL for meat.
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