Some ranchers who hoped mandatory country of origin labeling would be included in a new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico now say they’re disappointed it was left out of the agreement.
“We were excited and elated when the Trump administration (was) campaigning on the issue of ‘Buy American, use American,’ and we really thought we had an opportunity to get mandatory COOL re-implemented,” said Kenny Graner, a North Dakota rancher and president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.
“As one of those patriots that he has always mentioned as taking a hit ... I feel left behind,” Graner said.
“It’s a huge disappointment, it reflects the fact the president continues to listen to the same advisors that have brought these bad trade agreements to us in the first place,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA.
COOL was repealed in 2015, when the World Trade Organization authorized Canada and Mexico to impose more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, ruling that labeling violated U.S. trade obligations and discriminated against imported cattle and hogs from Canada and imported cattle from Mexico.
Without COOL, Graner said, competing countries can import cattle from other countries and harvest, package and ship them to U.S. processing plants, where they can be repackaged and labeled as a U.S. product.
“We’re held under some of the highest standards when it comes to production of beef in the world,” Graner said. “The quality of cattle, the standards of the way we raise and feed our cattle – there is a difference.”
Other ranchers welcomed the new deal, saying it allows continued duty-free, unrestricted access to Canada and Mexico markets.
“When COOL was the law of the land for five years, it did absolutely nothing to drive demand for our product, it did nothing to address food safety,” said Kent Bacus, director of international trade for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “The only thing it resulted in was the WTO decision against the U.S. that could have resulted in more than $1 billion in retaliation against U.S. agriculture. There wasn’t a lot to win by adding that in there, and I’m glad our negotiators were wise enough to see that, and did not put us in further jeopardy by bringing up failed policies of the past.”
Graner believes COOL was not included in the new agreement because multi-national beef lobbying groups with a large influence in Washington, D.C., did not want it.
“They enjoy the ability to source cattle or beef outside this country, bring it into the U.S., commingle it, drive down their costs and at the same time drive down our domestic price, which increases the profitability for the multi-national packers,” he said. “In my mind, they’re part of the swamp.”
Graner said his organization will continue to defend mandatory COOL, writing additional letters to the White House. R-CALF has asked for a meeting with Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. Bullard sees several opportunities to support or reinstate COOL during the 60-day period as Congress reviews the agreement.
Bullard believes Trump can be convinced that the new deal doesn’t strengthen American ranchers’ domestic supply chain.
“I think this president understands some very important aspects of international trade,” he said. “He has to understand you cannot have transparency and fair trade if you give the meatpackers the ability to continue sourcing cheaper, undifferentiated beef and then pawning it off to U.S. consumers as if it were produced under the U.S. superior health and safety regime.”