An arbitrator with the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week set a deadline of May 23, 2013 for the United States to modify its requirements for country of origin labeling (COOL) for meat. In his ruling, the arbitrator says a period of 10 months from July 23, 2012, the date the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body issued its rulings on the issue, is a reasonable time for implementation.
The dispute stems from the 2009 COOL final rule, which USDA issued after Congress passed the COOL Statute. Canada and Mexico oppose the rule and filed a complaint with the WTO claiming it violates previous trade agreements by according less favorable treatment to imported livestock than to like domestic livestock. The WTO ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico, leading to a failed appeal from the United States.
According to WTO documents, the United States has agreed to bring COOL policies into compliance with existing trade agreements, but contends that it will need at least 12 months to complete the US regulatory process due to the technical complexities of the COOL measure. It will require, at the outset, a period of at least five months to conduct discussions and review options, to build and organize the broad support necessary for modifications to the COOL regulations, and to prepare a draft rule for internal clearance.
The ruling does not mean an end to COOL, but it remains unclear what any new rules will entail. U.S. government officials have indicated they intend to modify the COOL regulations in a manner that comply with WTO obligations while still providing consumers valuable information about the origin of beef and pork products, an objective that the WTO Appellate Body agreed is legitimate, according to a WTO report.
Quoted in a Reuters article, Nkenge Harmon, a spokesperson for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, says "The United States remains committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with information about the origin of the beef and pork products they buy at the retail level. We intend to bring the COOL requirements into compliance within the period of time established by the arbitrator, and we will continue to work with USDA, Congress, and interested stakeholders in order to do so."
Read more about the ruling from the WTO.