If an information leak from the World Trade Organization proves true, Canada has won a victory against U.S. country-of-origin labelling.
It is cause for celebration, tempered by the knowledge that Canada has won battles in the same war before, yet billions of dollars continue to be lost by the cattle and hog industries.
This time, the outcome will be different.
This time, the U.S. government may heed pleadings from within its own ranks and from its own meat industry to change its labelling laws so they are trade compliant.
This time, it may be swayed by pressure from other American industries that grow, make or export goods to Canada that will be subject to retaliatory Canadian tariffs if COOL isn’t amended or scrapped.
This time, the U.S. government might recognize its own hypocrisy in seeking trade deals with other countries while implementing protectionist, deal-defying legislation at home.
And this time, if amendments are made to the legislation, they will reflect meaningful change rather than last year’s disdain for the WTO process.
To recap on that point, a WTO ruling in June 2012 forced the U.S. to amend COOL legislation, but when it did so in May 2013, the changes were more restrictive and harmful than the original. The WTO has apparently agreed with that assessment.
No one has disputed the truth of Wall Street Journal reports that Canada and Mexico have won their WTO challenge to COOL. Canadian officials privy to the results are complying with confidentiality agreements, but absence of denial from any quarter is evidence in itself.
COOL has done great harm to the Canadian beef and pork industries. Its requirements for expensive segregation and labelling at U.S. plants have discouraged the purchase of Canadian livestock and transformed a highly integrated North American meat industry into one that discriminates against livestock and meat from other countries.
Labels indicating where the source animal was born, raised and slaughtered — bearing in mind that it could involve two and possibly three different countries — requires detailed segregation of animals and meat products as well as extensive record keeping to prove compliance.
By any measure, it is a complex and expensive proposition. Small wonder it has discouraged purchase of Canadian livestock.
Somewhat ironically, the goal behind COOL — or at least the stated goal, if one dismisses the notion of a disguised trade barrier — has validity. Consumers should have information on food origins if they want it. Flexible, trade-compliant labelling rules could deliver that, but the current regimen confuses rather than informs.
It’s worthy of note that since COOL was implemented in 2009, Americans’ demand for and purchase of meat has not changed. The average resident is not aware of labelling rules nor does she or he seek out information on origin. Kansas and Oklahoma state university researchers documented this in a November 2012 study.
Thus there is ample proof that COOL has been a failure on many levels.
It has failed in its stated goal of providing consumers with desired information.
It has failed in any collateral goal to increase consumption of U.S. meat.
It has failed to comply with international trade agreements.
It has failed to show any semblance of expeditious legislation, having been in process since October 1998 and still in dispute today.
Will the U.S. government finally acknowledge all of these failings and scrap or at least legally comply with trade obligations? It should. It might. We hope it will.
- MoIT says supporting industries still struggling to meet international standards
- Brexit: UK services are losing out to EU rivals – but Asia could be big winner
- Firms must try to take advantage of FTAs: experts
- Chips and cars power ASEAN exports beyond pre-COVID levels
- Over 20 Vietnamese basa fish exporters withdraw from EU market