By Daniel Enoch
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2013 – Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said his country is serious about seeking retaliatory tariffs if the United States fails to change its country-of-origin meat labeling law (COOL).
“It’s always the last arrow in the quiver we want to fire,’’ Ritz said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters from the Indonesian island of Bali, where he was attending a World Trade Organization ministerial conference. But at the end of the day, he said the world must know Canada is serious.
Ritz said there’s a “small window of opportunity before the end of the year’’ for the U.S. Congress to “get it right’’ and amend COOL. And he offered to come to Washington next week, when both the House and Senate will be in session, to press his case for a COOL amendment in a new farm bill that is being fought over in a conference committee.
Acting on a challenge from Canada and Mexico, a WTO panel has already found that COOL amounts to disguised protectionism in violation of trade agreements. Ritz said the rules, which require labels to say where the animal that produced the meat came from, is costing Canada’s livestock producers about $1 billion a year.
Tyson Foods Inc. in October said it had stopped buying slaughter-ready cattle from Canada due to higher costs associated with the labeling law.
WTO regulations allow countries to impose retaliatory tariffs in such cases and Ritz earlier had said any levies could go beyond beef and pork imports from the U.S.
However, during a panel at the 2013 Farm Journal Forum in Washington today, National Farmers Union (NFU) Vice President of Government Affairs Chandler Goule emphasized his support for COOL.
He said the farmers he represents want consumers to have information on where their meat was born, raised and slaughtered. Additionally, he maintained that the new labeling rules that went into effect last month are already being implemented and are reformed to be WTO compliant.
He asserted that if the U.S. Congress acts to change the COOL law, “it will play into the major decision on whether or not can we can support this farm bill.”
On another subject, Ritz said that with just hours remaining at the Bali conference there was no agreement on a deal to liberalize global commerce. It was early Friday morning in Bali as the teleconference began and Ritz said many of the negotiators had been up all night vainly seeking a compromise.
The big stumbling block, he said, was India’s insistence that it be allowed to continue to subsidize farmers, and protect its food supply, beyond levels that the U.S. and other developed countries see as fair.
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