Mexico and Canada won a final appeal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday, when the trade body upheld an early decision that found that U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products violated international trade law. Both countries have warned that they may pursue punitive measures against U.S. exports unless the requirement, which was adopted in 2009 and amended in 2013, is dropped. The USDA describes COOL as a “consumer information program.”
The Canadian Ministers of International Trade and Agriculture and Agri-Food, along with the Mexican Secretaries of Economy and Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, issued a statement yesterday that said, “Once again, the WTO has confirmed Canada and Mexico’s long-standing position that the United States’ mandatory COOL requirements for beef and pork are blatantly protectionist and are a violation of the United States’ international trade obligations,” adding that “our governments will be seeking authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.” According to estimates, the COOL requirements have cost Canada $1 billion a year. Industry groups have argued that the rule hampers trade in livestock due to the added costs of tracking animals along the supply chain and separating them according to country of origin.
Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have signaled that they will move to repeal the legislation. “It is important now more than ever to act quickly to avoid a protracted trade war with our two largest trade partners,” said Michael Conway, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, whose office has reportedly downplayed the impact of COOL requirements on food safety.
U.S. consumer groups, however, have decried the ruling. “Today’s WTO ruling … effectively orders the U.S. government to stop providing consumers basic information about where their food comes from,” said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, a consumer group.
Meanwhile, U.S. beef and cattle producers have offered mixed responses. Ron Prestage, president of the National Pork Producers Council, called the prospect of Mexican and Canadian tariffs on U.S. exports a “death sentence for U.S. jobs and exports,” urging Congress to act quickly. Others, including Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, maintain that any resolution to the dispute “must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”