Earlier this week Canada's Ag Minister Gerry Ritz - he occupies a similar position to the USDA's Tom Vilsack - traveled to Chicago. He was backed by a delegation of provincial agriculture ministers and industry representatives to speak harshly to a packed room of meat industry execs attending the North American Meat Conference Outlook Conference.
His troop included Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson; Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart; Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn and representatives from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council.
I sat in the audience and listened as he spoke. His harshness wasn't aimed at the audience which included 'friendlies' from a few of the U.S. based organizations that agreed with his position; the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association and Southwest Meat Association. It was directed at the folks who are pushing hard for COOL.
Mr. Ritz is annoyed that COOL, which took a decade of political wrangling before the WTO struck it down as unnecessarily restrictive. Not long afterwards, it was reinstated in an even stricter format by the USDA. The Canadians, not willing to go through another ten years of arm-wrestling to reopen what had once been an open border, are angry. Far too polite to say ugly things and start a shooting war over a bunch of cattle, Ritz outlined retaliatory counter measures while trying to sound moderately conciliatory.
The Ag Minister is banking that the upcoming farm bill will stop a painful tariff war.
Talking with CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange: "The farm bill is one of the president’s top priorities. It’s certainly an ideal time to increase the pressure, to make amendments in the farm bill — that would be the quickest fix."
To the Outlook Conference: "COOL continues to hurt industries on both sides of the border, adding unnecessary red tape, delays, and costs to our integrated North American meat industry. US legislators have an opportunity now through the Farm Bill to end the economic harm that COOL is having throughout North America. Our government remains committed to pursuing all options available to resolve this dispute, including retaliation. COOL laws are a political solution to a problem that doesn't exist."
"At the end of the day, we will also use retaliatory measures, should they be required. It’s the last bullet we want to fire, but we have that in our arsenal so the Americans know we are serious about putting those retaliatory measures in play."