USTR to appeal COOL ruling by WTO

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2014 - The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has decided to appeal a World Trade Organization ruling that found USDA country of origin labeling (COOL) rules for beef and pork were non-compliant with international trade obligations.

A WTO compliance panel ruled on Oct. 20 that the U.S. regulations requiring meat labels to specify where an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered violated global trade rules because Canadian and Mexican livestock received “less favorable treatment than that accorded to like U.S. livestock.” Canada and Mexico had brought the complaint against the U.S.

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The panel found that action from USDA to bring rules into WTO compliance last year increased the original COOL rule's “detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported livestock in the U.S. market.” The panel said the updated COOL rule “necessitates increased segregation of meat and livestock according to origin; entails a higher recordkeeping burden; and increases the original COOL measures incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.”

NFU President Roger Johnson, in a news release, applauded the USTR's decision to appeal, calling it “the right thing to do for American family farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

Johnson noted that the WTO, in its October ruling, found the COOL law was WTO compliant, but said the panel had “incorrectly” decided that the rules implementing the law were the problem. “An appeal if the obvious course of action,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that while family farmers and consumers support the labeling law, “large international meatpackers” are pressuring Congress to repeal the legislation.

 “The multinational meatpacking industry continues to urge Congress to repeal COOL laws before the WTO process runs its course,” Johnson said. “These are inappropriate attempts to prevent consumers from having access to basic information about their food. Congress should ignore these scare tactics and allow the WTO process to play out before acting prematurely.”

“American consumers have been crystal clear that they want to know where their food comes from and family farmers and ranchers are proud to provide it,” said Johnson. “The decision by the USTR to appeal the WTO's erroneous finding demonstrates full support for American family farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

The U.S. Cattlemen's Association also welcomed the USTR decision to appeal.

“This has been a long process but the panel's rulings appear to be incorrect in a number of respects,” USCA President Danni Beer said in a release. “We look forward to having the Appellate Body review those matters properly appealed to it. COOL is important to consumers and to cattle producers in the United States trying to have the origin of their product communicated to the end user. We appreciate the support from the Administration and from many in Congress to defend this critical legislation and agency regulations."

More than 100 agriculture-related companies and organizations had asked Congress to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to forego an appeal and immediately rescind the meat provisions of the COOL rules that the WTO panel objected to.

Failing to do so - and embarking on a lengthy appeal process -- would expose a wide variety of U.S. exports to retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico, resulting in “serious economic harm to U.S. firms and farmers,” the signees to the letter said. They included the American Feed Industry Association, Anheuser-Busch, the American Meat Institute, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and the Grocery Manufacturers Association

“It is expected that U.S. industries would suffer billions in lost sales if retaliation is allowed,” according to the letter.

Canadian officials today said they were disappointed that the U.S. had decided to appeal. Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz issued the following statement:

“Canada fully expected the United States to live up to its international trade obligations and comply with the WTO ruling, which reaffirms Canada's long-standing view that the revised U.S. COOL measure is blatantly protectionist and fails to comply with the WTO's original ruling against it.

“With this delay, the United States is yet again preventing both of our countries from enjoying the benefits of freer and more open trade and is hurting farmers, ranchers and workers in the United States and Canada.

“We are confident that the WTO Appellate Body in the compliance process will uphold the principal finding of the report: that the amended U.S. COOL measure discriminates against Canadian livestock. That finding marks another clear victory for Canada and recognizes the integrated nature of the North American supply chain.

“Our government will always stand with our farmers and ranchers, and we will take whatever steps may be necessary, including retaliation, to achieve a fair resolution.”

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