By TIM HEARDEN
The Canadian government on June 7 signaled it may impose retaliatory tariffs on more than three dozen American commodities, including beef, pork, rice, corn, apples, cherries and wine, as a result of the U.S.' mandatory country-of-origin labeling law.
Canada's ministers of trade and agriculture said the nation is preparing to "launch the next phase" of a World Trade Organization dispute process and accused the U.S. of "unfair trade practices" that "are severely damaging to Canadian industry and jobs.
"Our government is extremely disappointed that the United States continues to uphold this protectionist policy, which the WTO has ruled to be unfair, and we call on the United States to abide by the WTO ruling," said the joint statement by Ed Fast, minister of international trade, and Gerry Ritz, minister of agriculture.
Andrea Mead, spokeswoman for acting U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro, said Canada has assured the U.S. it would not enact tariffs unless it has the approval of the WTO, which could take 18 to 24 months. She expressed hope that the U.S. position will be upheld.
"As we have said from the outset, USDA's new final rule brings the United States into compliance, and therefore no retaliation should be authorized," Mead told the Capital Press in an email.
The USDA finalized its revised meat-labeling rule May 23 after the WTO Appellate Body decreed last summer that COOL was having a detrimental impact on imported livestock without sufficiently meeting its goal of informing consumers about the origin of food. The Appellate Body disagreed with a lower panel's opinion that COOL amounted to a trade barrier, however.
The new rule modifies the labeling provisions for muscle cuts of beef, pork and other meats to include information about where animals were born, raised and slaughtered, and it removes the allowance for commingling of cuts from different countries.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association has complained that the existing labeling law, which was passed as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, has cost cattle producers north of the border approximately $25 to $40 per head since its inception, totaling about $640 million per year.
The wide range of commodities that Canada said it may target include both live cattle and hogs and their meat; fresh and processed cheese; fresh and preserved cherries; corn; rice; maple sugar and syrup; chocolate products; pasta and breads; certain potatoes; and wine and other spirits.
Non-agricultural goods were listed, too, including stainless steel tubes, heating appliance parts, swivel seats with variable height adjustment, and mattresses made with materials other than cellular rubber or plastics.
Scott George, a Cody, Wyo., beef and dairy producer and president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the list "brings home the real-world consequences of the USDA's adherence to" the labeling law.
"Our members have warned both the USDA and members of Congress that should this program continue, there will be a true cost to not only cattle and pork producers but to many other segments of the U.S. economy as well," George said in a statement. "This is too high a price to pay for a program that has proven it has no value."
However, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America has declared the USDA's revised rule is "right on the mark" and addresses the WTO's criticism by requiring all of the information collected from cattle suppliers to be relayed to consumers.
Canada and Mexico first filed complaints over COOL in 2009. According to Reuters, Ritz told reporters that Mexico would also seek retaliation against the United States, although its list of product may not match the Canadian list.
Agricultural Marketing Service Country-of-Origin Labeling: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/COOL
Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade: http://www.international.gc.ca/commerce/index.aspx