House panel readies COOL repeal

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 15, 2015 - A bill to repeal the country-of-origin labeling law for beef and pork could start moving in the House as soon as next week.

The World Trade Organization is expected on Monday to make public its ruling on the Obama administration's appeal of a decision against the law. Assuming WTO affirms the earlier ruling,

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is prepared to mark up repeal legislation before lawmakers leave for their weeklong Memorial Day recess, he said in an interview Friday.

“We can move pretty quickly. It's relatively straightforward legislation,” Conaway said.

Lets Talk Food

Conaway said he was working with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., on the legislation. The committee's ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, has long been an advocate of the 2002 law and opposes repeal.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., hasn't committed to trying to repeal the law. “The Senate Agriculture Committee will consider any option, including repeal regarding meat, that will allow the United States to be WTO-compliant and avoid retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” he said in a statement.

“We'll do whatever it takes to protect the livelihood of American farmers, ranchers and industries that will be targeted by retaliation.”

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he has done as much as he can do administratively to bring the law into compliance with the WTO decisions.

Canada and Mexico complained that the law violated international trade rules and are threatening to impose retaliatory duties on U.S. exports if the labeling doesn't end.

U.S. wine producers, who were hit with Mexican retaliation in an earlier dispute over American trucking regulations are among industries concerned about retaliation over the WTO's COOL ruling, Conaway said.

“I don't intend to wait. If we lose, we lose,” Conaway said.

The National Farmers Union, which has long defended the law, argues that Congress shouldn't intervene for now and instead give time for Canada and Mexico to pursue their case for retaliation and prove they've suffered the economic harm that they've claimed.  

NFU President Roger Johnson said his group “will vigorously oppose any repeal efforts.”

“For Congress to intervene in the middle of the WTO process is unprecedented and would be an imprudent decision based off of unsubstantiated retaliatory threats and lobbying from foreign governments and multinational meatpackers,” he said.

Conaway also hit back against arguments by critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the COOL dispute demonstrates how it could be used by other countries to block U.S. food safety regulations. “If we pass laws that don't comport with the agreements we've made with other countries then, yes, we'll have to unwind those laws,” Conaway said.

“But we can't have an agreement with two countries and then pass laws that violate that agreement and then take a stand. … We wouldn't want a country doing that to us.”


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