Canada has requested to establish a dispute panel at the World Trade Organization over U.S. rules for country of origin labeling. Following are statements from the USDA, NCBA and R-CALFUSA.

From USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk today issued a statement regarding Canada's request to establish a dispute settlement panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to review their claims in a dispute regarding country of origin labeling (COOL) required by the 2008 Farm Bill for certain agricultural products. The panel request will be considered at the October 23, 2009, meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.

From Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk:

"We regret that formal consultations have not been successful in resolving Canada's concerns over country of origin labeling (COOL) required by the 2008 Farm Bill for certain agricultural products.

“We believe that our implementation of COOL provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization commitments.

“Countries have agreed since long before the existence of the WTO that country of origin labeling is a legitimate policy. It is common for other countries to require that goods be labeled as to their origin.

“We hope to continue to work with Canada to resolve this issue amicably."

From NCBA

Canada’s decision to move forward with their complaint against U.S. COOL regulations is unfortunate, due to the potential retaliatory action that could be taken against U.S. beef. Since COOL was first proposed, we’ve continued to have concerns about its potential implications on our relationship with our top two trading partners—not to mention its impact on domestic feeder cattle markets at our borders to the North and South.

“The U.S. imports and adds value to Mexican and Canadian livestock through our feedlots, processing and infrastructure; and we export this value-added finished product back to Mexican and Canadian consumers. Any disruptions to either of these markets will have a significant economic impact on our industry. Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that COOL has damaged these critically important trading relationships, and is not putting any additional money into the pockets of cattlemen.”

In order to gain a better understanding of COOL’s effects on the entire beef chain, NCBA has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reinstate a joint Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)/Economic Research Service (ERS) study titled, “Economic Analysis of Country of Origin Implementation Costs for Producers and Processors in the Beef, Pork and Lamb Industries” that was to be completed in cooperation with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC). Unfortunately, the FY 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill did not direct USDA to reinstate the funding for this purpose. NCBA is continuing to urge USDA to prioritize this project. 

 Canada and Mexico are our top two trading partners, together accounting for 59 percent of total of total U.S. beef, beef variety meat and processed beef product export revenues last year. It is likely that Mexico will join Canada in proceeding with a formal WTO dispute settlement process.

From R-CALF USA

“We are pleased that both USDA and USTR are taking a strong stand to defend our constitutional right to pass and implement the U.S. COOL law that provides U.S. consumers with important information regarding where their food is grown and produced,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. “We urge both departments to take deliberate and decisive steps to quash Canada’s attempt to interfere with the United States’ sovereign right to inform U.S. consumers about the origins of the food they purchase for themselves and their families.

“We believe the complaints by Canada against the U.S. COOL law are baseless,” he continued. “Unfortunately, this WTO dispute procedure grants Canada an overly simplified forum to retaliate against U.S. citizens’ exercise of their constitutional rights.

“This action by Canada should give considerable pause to those elected officials who have unwittingly transferred our sovereign right of self-government to an international tribunal,” Bullard pointed out. “We are now in the unenviable position of awaiting a decision from the WTO to determine if our right to self government is absolute, or if we must kowtow to a higher, international power that no U.S. citizen has ever voted for. This attack by Canada strikes at the heart of American sovereignty.”

It is important to note that:

  1. The U.S. COOL law imposes no duty or restrictions on any foreign government, nor imposes any limits on the volume or type of commodities that a foreign country may export to the United States.
  2. Foreign countries are not obligated, in any way, to export to the U.S. any of the commodities subject to the U.S. COOL law – hence, a foreign country’s decision to market its products in the U.S. market and under the rules of the U.S. market is purely voluntary.
  3. COOL jurisdiction is exclusively limited to U.S. retailers, as defined exclusively by U.S. law, and subjects all covered commodities marketed by U.S. retailers to identical information requirements, regardless of where the commodities originate.

“Thus, our domestic COOL law does not affect international trade agreements, and it is fundamentally inappropriate for the WTO to even entertain a foreign country’s complaint against our domestic COOL law,” Bullard emphasized.

“COOL enables consumers to freely choose between food products of various origins,” he concluded.  “Consumers’ choices will influence the market demand for products from any given country. This is how a competitive market is supposed to work, and neither Canada nor the WTO has any right to take that competitive market away from U.S. consumers