Retaliatory duties on USA meat exports challenged at WTO

By Keith Nuthall

- Last updated on GMT

WTO to examine trade battles
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Disputes Settlement Body (DSB) has agreed to establish disputes settlement panels to rule on whether retaliatory duties imposed by Canada, China, and Mexico on US meat exports, imposed in response to America’s controversial steel and aluminium tariffs, break WTO rules.

These retaliatory tariffs include 10% duties imposed by Canada on US-made prepared meals including poultry (spent fowl) and bovine meat; mixtures of spent fowl; spent fowl other than in cans or glass jars; and prepared or preserved bovine meat, not in cans or glass jars; 25% tariffs levied by China on US pigmeat – cuts, carcasses and offal; and 10% duties imposed by Mexico on American ham and 15% on pigmeat shoulder cuts. The US is also challenging EU retaliatory tariffs – but these do not yet cover American meat exports.

In a statement released at the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, the US government maintained a hard line against China, saying that its justification for imposing the metal duties – that excess imports undermined American steel and aluminium plants vital for US national security - was not only correct, but allowed under WTO rules. Hence the retaliatory duties imposed against US exporters were wrong and broke WTO agreements: “Imports of steel and aluminium threaten to impair US national security,” ​it said.

Washington was less bombastic in its comments regarding Canada and Mexico, saying that both two neighbours had been “engaging in constructive discussions towards resolving concerns” ​that might lead to the metal and meat duties being cancelled. It dismissed, however, the Canadian and Mexican justification for the retaliatory duties, that the US metal tariffs were in reality disguised ‘safeguard duty’ protectionism for its steel and aluminium sectors, arguing that “in reality”​ the Canada and Mexico governments do not consider the US metal tariffs to be safeguard duties.

Meanwhile, in a whirlwind of disputes cases at the WTO, the DSB is also to establish disputes settlement panels where China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Russia, and Turkey will argue America’s original steel and aluminium duties also break WTO rules. 

At the same time, in a long running case, the WTO’s DSB has established another panel to consider whether Russia has implemented an earlier WTO ruling which struck down Russia’s import ban on live pigs and pork products from Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as the EU-wide import ban on live pigs and certain pork products. This had been imposed because of outbreaks of African swine fever in Europe. If it rules against Russia - the WTO could authorise retaliatory duties by the EU against Russia. Moscow will argue these bans have been removed – but were replaced by tit-for-tat food trade sanctions imposed by the EU and Russia over the diplomatic row sparked by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.

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