The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled that the US has until 23 May 2012 to ensure its laws on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) for meat products conform with its international trade obligations.
The ruling follows a request from the US in August that it be given a “reasonable period of time” to implement the WTO recommendations on COOL. It argued that this would be 18 months, while Canada and Mexico argued that it should be eight months. The WTO arbitrator announced yesterday that it had determined a “reasonable period of time” would be 10 months from the appellate body ruling.
The decision has been welcomed by Canada’s International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. A joint statement from the ministers said: “Our government has stood firm with our cattle and hog producers against the unfair country-of-origin labelling of the US. The WTO Appellate Body has recognised the integrated nature of the North American supply chain and marked a clear win for our livestock industry.
“We expect that the US will bring itself into compliance with its WTO obligations by May 2013, as determined by the arbitrator for the benefit of producers on both sides of the border. We are particularly pleased that the arbitrator determined a reasonable period of time close to that proposed by Canada and Mexico, as opposed to the much longer period suggested by the US.
“Canada and the US enjoy the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world. Reducing obstacles to trade has contributed to mutually beneficial supply chains, making both countries more competitive domestically and internationally. Removing onerous labelling measures, and the unfair, unnecessary costs that go with them, will improve competitiveness, boost growth, and help strengthen the prosperity of Canadian and American producers alike.”
The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) also welcomed the ruling. CPC chair Jean-Guy Vincent said it had been campaigning to end the “discrimination” caused by the US COOL laws for years. He added: “This highly favourable result could not have been achieved without the strong and unwavering support of International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and their officials. The dedication and excellence of Canada’s legal team and trade experts ensured that WTO dispute settlement worked as it should and could not have achieved this result without their efforts.”
US meat processors have not commented on the time limit as yet, but they previously urged the US government to implement the WTO ruling, pointing out that COOL laws were jeopardising the country’s relationships with key trading partners Canada and Mexico.
However, livestock farmers have reacted furiously to the latest WTO decision. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA) COOL committee chair Mike Schultz said it was “utterly ridiculous” that the US government was bowing to pressure from “unelected foreigners at the WTO”.
R-CALF USA has launched a lawsuit with the Made in the USA Foundation to challenge the authority of the WTO to issue rulings that are inconsistent with US laws.
Joel Joseph, chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, said: “When the US joined the World Trade Organization, Congress specified that the WTO had no power to override US law. Now the WTO is attempting to do just that. The Foundation, along with R-CALF USA and other groups, are suing the WTO and the US to keep the COOL law in force.”