US will seek WTO arbitration over COOL retaliation

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 - The U.S. will seek World Trade Organization arbitration over Canada's request for retaliation stemming from a country-of-origin labeling (COOL) dispute, the Canadian government confirmed today in a release.

Canada is seeking retaliatory tariffs worth about $2.6 billion - more than $3 billion in Canadian dollars - for economic damages brought about by mandatory COOL. Last month, the WTO upheld its previous ruling that requiring born, raised, and slaughtered information on meat labels and requiring segregation of live cattle from Canada and Mexico accorded unfavorable treatment to the countries' respective livestock. The ruling was the fourth such decision against the U.S., clearing the way for tariffs from Canada and Mexico.

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A meeting was scheduled Wednesday to allow the WTO to approve retaliatory figures from the two countries, but since the U.S. decided to seek arbitration, that hearing turned into a matter of notification that the WTO can't take action on Canada's retaliation request until the arbitration process is completed.

A U.S. government source told Agri-Pulse that the U.S. didn't take similar action - that is seek arbitration - against Mexico because of an error in Mexico's original retaliation request. Mexico is expected to submit another request for retaliatory authorization, and the source told Agri-Pulse the U.S. will “react at the appropriate time.”

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In a joint statement, Gerry Ritz, the country's agriculture minister, and Ed Fast, the minister of international trade, said the U.S. “is out of options” and that retaliation “cannot be avoided by drawing out this process.”

“In all previous rulings, ‎the WTO has found Canada's economic analysis regarding COOL to be robust,” the ministers said. “Our government's position remains unchanged. The only way for the United States to avoid billions in retaliation by late summer is to ensure legislation repealing COOL passes the Senate and is signed by the President.”

Last week, the House passed a bill to repeal the beef, pork, and poultry COOL labeling requirements in a bipartisan 300-131 vote. There is no set timetable for action in the Senate, but Wednesday afternoon, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced a June 25 hearing on COOL “impacts (and) actions.” According to a release from the committee, the hearing will discuss “what is at stake for America's farmers, ranchers, businesses and consumers.”

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