World Trade Organization issues preliminary COOL ruling in favor of Canada, Mexico
Editor’s note: On June 1 the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) issued the following comment and background information regarding media reports of a preliminary WTO ruling on the U.S. country of origin labeling rules as required by the 2002 Farm Bill and as amended by the 2008 Farm Bill.
Last week the Daily Report for Executives reported that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute resolution panel in the Canadian and Mexican challenge of the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) law has issued a preliminary ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico. The Daily Report for Executives story surrounds a confidential report circulated only to the parties involved, but which was apparently leaked immediately to the media.
The three-member dispute panel reportedly found that U.S. COOL requirements do not fulfill the objective of helping inform consumers of the origin of meat, act as a protectionist barrier and, as a result, violate the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The WTO dispute three-member panel that is hearing the case consists of a Swiss diplomat; Pakistan’s ambassador to the WTO; and a WTO staffer-turned-trade consultant from Portugal.
Not satisfied with the outcome of two sets of consultations held with U.S. officials about their concerns, both Canada and Mexico requested the establishment of a WTO dispute resolution panel in November 2009 to consider their case. Both the Canadian and Mexican governments asserted before the WTO that COOL is inconsistent with several WTO-related trade commitments, including those providing that imports must be treated no less favorably than products of domestic origin, among other things. U.S. officials argued that the U.S. implementation of COOL provides consumers with information that is consistent with WTO commitments, noting that countries had agreed that COOL was legitimate policy long before the WTO was created, and that other countries also require goods to be labeled with their origin.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) call for public comment on this case generated several responses from the livestock sector. USCA, Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) argued in joint comments submitted to the USTR that COOL is fully consistent with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Agreement on Technical Barriers of Trade (key WTO commitments).
The groups stated that the U.S. law “does not discriminate between domestic and imported beef… operates neutrally in the market place… and does not impose any domestic content requirements (i.e., does not stipulate what share of value or quantity determines country of origin).”
“Media reports about this ruling are apparently based on a confidential document that was circulated only to the parties involved in the case, the details of which remain uncertain at this time. USCA is a staunch supporter of COOL and has worked hard for years with other industry and consumer groups to see the law passed and implemented and we will continue to work with federal officials involved in defending COOL through this international challenge,” says USCA President Jon Wooster of San Lucas, Calif.
“USCA firmly believes that COOL fulfills the objective of informing consumers and that it meets all international trade law criteria. It is likely that the dispute panel’s final ruling will be made public through appropriate channels this summer, after which the U.S. will have 60 days to file an appeal, if necessary,” explains Wooster. “If this case proceeds to that level, USCA will do everything in its power to support the appeal process. In the meantime, we will await the public release of the WTO’s final decision in order to move forward based on facts rather than unsubstantiated media reports.”