As the mainstream agriculture groups rally to seek a resolution to the country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) dispute, the fringe groups that support retaining the trade discriminatory provisions can be expected to become increasingly vocal.
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) President Travis Toews attended the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual meeting earlier this month where he had several opportunities to update AFBF delegates on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel report on U.S. country-of-origin-labeling law (COOL).
The discussions identified how the U.S. will be better off by eliminating the discrimination that COOL has created for Canadian and Mexican livestock imported into the U.S. Although COOL has not produced any quantifiable benefits for U.S. agriculture, it puts at least 9,000 U.S. meat processing jobs at risk though closure of excess processing capacity. Once U.S. packing facilities start closing, the U.S. livestock producers who rely on the closed facilities will be negatively impacted.
Also explored was the potential for Canada to take retaliatory action should the U.S. not comply with the WTO ruling. With Canada being such a huge importer of U.S. agricultural and prepared-ood products, AFBF concluded that it is in the best interest of U.S. farmers and ranchers to resolve the COOL dispute as soon as possible and not delay a resolution through an appeal. The AFBF expressed this by passing a policy to, "support country of origin labeling that conforms with COOL parameters and meets WTO requirements."
Furthermore, AFBF directed its staff to "Encourage the USTR not to appeal the WTO ruling on COOL, but to go straight to a legislative resolution."
The decision by AFBF is consistent with the position taken by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) at its summer meeting in August 2011. NCBA had taken notice that the WTO had delivered its final decision to the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments. Although the ruling had not yet been made public, apparently NCBA had gleaned enough from media reports to take the following position on the case: "NCBA staff should urge the U.S. Trade Representative to forego an appeal of the WTO ruling on U.S. COOL and work with Congress and/or regulatory agencies to implement a program that is WTO compliant and consistent with current NCBA policy."
Finally, a group of over 100 U.S. agriculture-oriented state legislators met in Washington D.C., from Jan. 6-8 at the annual meeting of the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders (SARL). The CCA participated in this meeting and had the opportunity to have many conversations regarding COOL, similar to what was discussed at AFBF. This group passed a resolution, "that SARL encourages the U.S. to waive an appeal of the WTO Dispute Panel's ruling on COOL and further encourages the United States Congress to make a legislative amendment that would bring COOL into conformity with the U.S. WTO obligations, without hindering the ability of the U.S. to continue to implement COOL for informed consumer decisions."
CCA will continue to work with organizations and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to encourage the U.S. to waive any appeal and to move directly to resolve the dispute.