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It Happened

Written by Dennis Sun

Earlier this past week the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) arbitration panel announced their long-awaited ruling on the United States’ country of origin labeling (COOL). WTO said COOL requirements for livestock and meat imports have cost our trading partners over $1 billion. Canada and Mexico are now authorized to impose retaliatory tariffs in that amount against U.S. exports.

For at least two years, we all knew it was coming. Canada was especially vocal about the issue and even had the list of products from each state of Congressional members who voted for COOL. Wyoming was on the list, as our Senator Mike Enzi had voted for the legislation. Although I’m not sure what we export to Canada, the list said beer. I don’t understand that. Having said that, not sending beer to Canada wouldn’t be all bad. We’ll just keep it for ourselves.

Mexico has joined Canada with the retaliatory tariffs, and as Canada and Mexico are the U.S.’s largest trading partners, this causes a lot of alarms to go off, as it should. On June 10 of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to amend the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946 by a vote of 300-131. The legislation will effectively repeal country of origin labeling requirements for beef, pork and chicken but not lamb or all other covered commodities. Both Canada and Mexico have stated repeatedly that enacting this legislation will mitigate the need for any retaliatory actions, fundamentally ending this case once and for all.

This COOL issue, as I’ve said before, has really split the cattle business. Right or wrong, it just hasn’t been good. Everyone likes an American label on our beef. How could one not? The problem is, how do we get there without hurting someone? The U.S. got hurt when all the Canadian cattle were coming down to the packinghouses in Colorado, and the feeder down the road from the same packinghouse couldn’t even get a bid on his fat cattle. So, we passed COOL. Then we got in trouble from Canada and Mexico.

In July, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the ag committee’s top Democrat, introduced a bill that would create a voluntary COOL program. Canada and Mexico expressed opposition to that plan, and the Senate had hoped to have something by the end of the year. Well, it is getting close, isn’t it? Dec. 18 is the earliest day retaliation could begin, and time is short.

Some question the $1 billion amount of damage and retaliation needed, and they say it’s time to look into the WTO process. They say, “The WTO process has undermined U.S. sovereignty and the right of American consumers to know the origin of their food.”

Now with the short time period, Congress has to fully repeal the COOL law, and that will divide more people. Those in Congress say any action on COOL, be it a full repeal or directing USDA to redefine the problematic “product of the U.S.” wording implicated in this dispute, will likely be attached to a broader bill rather than in a standalone action.

Somehow we need to get this COOL issue resolved and get back to raising cattle.