WTO rules against U.S. COOL program

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A World Trade Organization panel has issued a preliminary ruling on the case that Canada and Mexico filed against the U.S. country-of-origin-labeling law, charging that the mandatory rule violates WTO trade standards.

Specifically, the WTO ruling upholds that requirements tied to U.S. mandatory COOL violate provisions of WTO's agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade or TBT. The WTO panel also ruled that the mandatory COOL requirements to not meet the United States' stated objective that the labeling law informs and helps U.S. consumers make purchasing decisions regarding the origin of meat, produce and other products covered by the labeling law.

COOL started out as a voluntary labeling program in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002—also known as the 2002 Farm Bill. It had specified that COOL would include pork, beef, lamb, fish, perishable agricultural products and peanuts, and that it would become a mandatory requirement by Sept. 30, 2004.

However, opposition mounted by numerous agricultural groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, as well as from packers, processors and retailers. COOL opponents' argued that the program costs would far outweigh the benefits, which were not well determined, and that the marketplace and consumers should drive the need for such programs. Also, the consensus was that the effort driving COOL smacked of protectionism.

The mandatory version of COOL went into effect on March 19, 2009. Six months later, Canada filed a complaint with WTO, and Mexico quickly followed suit. The two countries' trade officials argued that U.S. mandatory COOL amounted to an illegal, non-tariff trade barrier, and treated U.S. products more favorably than those from Canada and Mexico.

The WTO's preliminary ruling was actually issued May 20, and there will now be a 30-days comment period. WTO officials have indicated that a final, public ruling will likely come sometime in September. The U.S. government will have two months to decide whether to appeal the WTO's decision. As NPPC officials point out, such WTO decisions are typically appealed.

Long term, if the WTO ruling stands, the United States will have to dissolve mandatory COOL or risk trade retaliations from Mexico and Canada, both of which are major U.S. trading partners.

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David Johnson    
Sonora, Mexico  |  May, 27, 2011 at 11:15 PM

Good ruling WTO. COOL has done nothing but lower the prices paid to us the producers here in Mexico by about $60 US dollars per head. And that hurts the little guy. I beleive it has also affected the US producer negatively also by causing them to compete with COOL discounted import cattle from Mexico and Canada. The consumer has not shown any buying preference for US born and packaged beef. This law has only caused the cost of segregation of the cattle to be passed down the line to the Mexican and Canadian rancher who can't afford anymore un-nessicary buyer discounts. I'm sure the US ranchers can stand on their own merit when it comes to selling their cattle. They don't need to get the government involved to make life complicated and costly. COOL has hurt everyone, including the US producer and consumer with higher costs. Be smart get rid of cool.

Texas  |  June, 06, 2011 at 10:57 PM

COOL has not hurt American producers, and has benefitted the consumer. Since when is the WTO more important than our Constitution and our laws? We have the right to regulate commerce in our country, the WTO can jump off a cliff. So called "free trade" has done more harm to wages and producer profits than anything else, especially to the small producer.

Michigan, USA  |  May, 28, 2011 at 01:30 PM

As a consumer and former beef cattle producer, I see nothing wrong with consumers having an opportunity to make an informed choice about the meat and other perishables they purchase. If the perception is that USA products are more desirable, so be it. Forcing ignorance upon consumers is just childish and unfair. US producers, not the corporate ag corporations, fought long and hard for COOL. I love COOL!

h dietrich    
arizona  |  May, 30, 2011 at 06:38 AM

this was a bad law to start with most mexican cattle are brought in as calves are sent to pasture or placed on feed in our feed lots slaughterd and processed in our plants inspected buy usda no different than any othercattle that are processed all we have done is take an animal that should worth as much as any u.s.born animal because of lighter finished weights and more yield grades one and two provides more of a better finised carcass weight for retail and h.r.i.and sell it as at a discount ask your friendly packer how much discount he has to take . for a fact their are many customers that will pay more because of the more ideal weights and cutability because of the short supply of more user friendly weights it does not make any sense to continue this bad law that we have shot our selves in the foot over mexico is one our best cosumers of us processed beef how would you people that think this a great service to the american consumer think if mexico quit buying our beef and offol how great that would be not a very good way to treat a neighbour

Arkansas  |  May, 29, 2011 at 11:46 PM

So this should mean that there shouldn't be any labels on anything "Made in America" anymore. This term will no longer exist. I am a proud american and support our country and its industries. The corporations are chipping away at us a little at a time. If you can't support america and its products made and produced at home then you need to leave. "Made In America" Brad

Angel Lopez    
Mexico  |  May, 30, 2011 at 07:59 AM

Brad, Mexico, Canada, Brasil, Cuba, Argentina, etc are also in America. Dont miss the big picture: Mexico, Canada and the US together have a lot of advantages to compete together agains South America, the pacific, Europe or Asia. Take Europe as an example: they work as business partners, the Pride of being from Spain or Germany is not in risk, the have one currency that was weak and now is stronger than the US dollar. Why do you think JBS is taking control of our business? They dont see flags, they capture opportunities. If breeding is less expensive in Mexico and finishing is better in the US, leave the pride where it is needed and capture a business opportunitie. I dont see large investment from US cattle companies in Mexico but in other industries are huge! and succesfull! So lets leave pride as side and lets get the China market or dont leave any room for Brasil or Australia meat. COOL labels Mexican meat as #3, customers relate numbers according to quality. A #1 is better than a #3. That is not fair. Instead of leaving money in the table with this law lets leave it in the production chain. It is not wise to waist resources when all our competitors are ahead. Sorry for my poor english, is not my native language.

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