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US Trade Representative decides to appeal ruling against country of origin labeling

Written by Christy Martinez
On March 23 the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its decision to appeal the Dispute Settlement Panel’s ruling issued in November 2011 against the U.S. country of origin (COOL) law.
    While the Dispute Panel’s findings took issue with certain implementation rules, the panel did affirm the right of the U.S. to label food products with country of origin.
    U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and Tim Johnson, (D-SD), applauded the decision to file an appeal, saying they see the move as an effort to ensure the law is implemented as intended, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) agrees.
    “We disagree with the panel’s assessment that the law offers less favorable treatment to meat products imported from Canada and Mexico, and USCA membership feels strongly that those aspects of the ruling should be re-examined by a higher authority,” said USCA President Jon Wooster in response to the news.
    “Recent reports show that exchange rates have affected trade flows in beef and cattle from Canada,” continued Wooster. “The CME Group published an analysis titled ‘Feeder Cattle From Mexico Aid U.S. Supplies’ on March 21, 2012. This analysis provides evidence that COOL is not a deterrent to imports. According to the report, in 2011 the U.S. imported about 1.4 million head of feeder cattle from Mexico, up about 190,000 head or 15 percent more than the year prior. It’s notable that neither Canada or Mexico have referenced this fact in the COOL debate.”
    “The USTR has a strong appeals case, and it is USCA’s intention to support the appeal,” noted Wooster.
    USCA also supports efforts by Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Mike Enzi, along with 17 other U.S. Senators who sent a letter last fall urging the USTR to appeal the ruling and to continue supporting the consumers’ right to labeling.
    R-CALF USA, a long-time supporter of mandatory COOL, said they are thankful the USTR chose to defend the COOL law, which the organization refers to as “constitutionally passed.”
    “We’re in a no-win situation regarding this frontal attack on our COOL law because our nation should not tolerate for an instant a foreign entity’s efforts to undermine our constitutionally-passed domestic laws in the first place,” said R-CALF USA Region VI Director and COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz.
Appeal sparks NCBA
concerns
    However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has issued a statement expressing concerns that the appeal will do more harm than good.
    “We are very disappointed in this decision. Instead of working diligently to bring the United States into WTO compliance, our government has opted to engage in an appeal process, which jeopardizes our strong trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, the two largest importers of U.S. beef,” said NCBA vice president Bob McCann. “An appeal is the wrong answer and a waste of valuable resources. This appeal will do nothing but escalate tension with our valuable trade partners and will prolong an issue that could be resolved quickly. We should be working toward a solution instead of creating a bigger problem.
    “NCBA will engage with Canada and Mexico to prevent any retaliatory action that could occur from this unfortunate decision made by the U.S. government. Cattlemen deserve a government that fights for and protects our opportunities. We need a government that not only demands WTO compliance of our trade partners, but one that ensures the United States is abiding by these same guidelines.”
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

COOL background
    The Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule makes it mandatory for grocers to label where their beef, pork, chicken and ground beef originate. Animals born, raised, and processed in the U.S. can only be labeled as U.S. origin. Meat from other countries must be labeled a mixed origin product.
    The mandatory version of COOL went into effect in March 2009. Six months later, Canada filed a complaint with WTO, and Mexico quickly followed suit. The two countries’ trade officials said cattle and hog exports dropped sharply, and argued that U.S. mandatory COOL amounted to an illegal, non-tariff trade barrier.
    U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., sent a letter in December 2011 with 17 other Senators asking United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appeal the decision of the WTO that ruled against the implementation of the U.S. COOL law. The law would require all imported goods to indicate the country in which the product originated and provides consumers with information about where their food comes from.
            On Nov. 18, 2011 a WTO Dispute Settlement Panel (DSP) ruled on complaints from Canada and Mexico. While the DSP ruled that the U.S. has the right to require COOL, it ruled that the labeling provides less favorable treatment to imported meat from Canada and Mexico. Johnson and Enzi worked together to write the original COOL law in 2002 and have worked tirelessly over the years to defend the law.