A WTO compliance panel has again ruled against the United States regarding the treatment accorded to imported Canadian and Mexican cattle under USDA’s 2013 final rule amending mandatory country of origin (COOL) labeling for beef and pork.
In addition, the WTO panel found the amended COOL measure increases the original COOL’s detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported livestock in the U.S. market.
Monday’s ruling stated the amended COOL necessitates increased segregation of meat and livestock, entails a higher record keeping burden and increases the original COOL measure’s incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.
As with the original COOL measure, the detrimental impact of the amended rule’s labeling and record keeping rules could not be explained by the need to convey to consumers information where livestock were born, raised and slaughtered, the panel concluded.
The WTO ruling that the COOL rule violates international trade obligations and the panel’s decision to uphold Canada’s and Mexico’s challenge to COOL came as no surprise to the U.S. meat industry.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), American Meat Institute (AMI), and North American Meat Association (NAMA) all issued statements warning of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, including non-agricultural products.
WTO’s announcement “brings us all one step closer to facing retaliatory tariffs from two of our largest trading partners,” NCBA President Bob McCan said in a written statement.
COOL is a failed program that has already harmed U.S. beef producers, who have suffered discounts and faced the closure of a number of feedlots and packing plants, he said.
There is no regulatory fix for COOL, and industry and Congress must find a permanent solution, he said.
NPPC is calling on the White House and Congress to immediately address the issue.
“Retaliatory tariffs on pork would be financially devastating to U.S. pork producers,” NPPC President Howard Hill said in a written statement.
“The United States can’t afford to have its products restricted through tariffs to its No. 1and 2 export markets,” he said.
AMI and NAMA in a joint statement said while the U.S. can appeal the ruling, they encourage USTR and USDA to instead work together with the industry and Congress to amend COOL so it complies with international obligations and brings stability to the market.
“Such a change would help restore strong relationships with some of our largest and most important trading partners,” the two organizations stated.
National Farmers Union, which has defended COOL in U.S. courts and supports consumers’ right to know where their food comes from, said WTO continues to uphold the U.S.’ right to require labeling of meat products but found fault in how the rule was implemented.
“Under the guidance of USDA, any changes to ensure full compliance with today’s decision should be able to be made administratively, while maintaining the integrity of COOL labels,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a written statement.