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WTO Rumored to Favor Canada, Mexico Position on COOL

WTO Rumored to Favor Canada, Mexico Position on COOL
Rule to declare more details about origin on meat packaging ruled non-compliant with WTO rules, again

The World Trade Organization has again ruled that the United States' Country of Origin labeling rule is non-compliant with the trade group's standards, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

WSJ reporter Nirmala Menon says "persons familiar with" the WTO findings have said the news has been circulated to Mexico, Canada and the U.S. – the three countries involved – though a report detailing the findings will not be made public until September or October.

A shopper examines a package of meat in a grocery store. (USDA photo by Stephen Ausmus)

The U.S. in 2013 revised the COOL rule on WTO's urging as both Canada and Mexico said it violated rules on technical barriers to trade by listing where meat was born, raised and slaughtered on the product's packaging. This creates a consumer bias, the countries said.

Both Mexico and Canada have threatened trade retaliation on the rule, with Canada releasing an extensive list of products that could be affected: live bovine or swine, meat of bovine or swine, dairy and produce products – even wooden office furniture.

Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Rick Crawford, R-Ark., warned of the effects of the retaliation in a July 30 letter to the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative: "If the WTO finds the COOL rule to be non-compliant, the resulting consequences could have a detrimental impact on our economy," Costa said. "Congress must be prepared to act and find a solution that maintains a healthy relationship with our trading partners and protects the American economy."

Related: New Coalition Wants to Curb WTO-Country of Origin Labeling Battle

Meanwhile, meat industry groups have picked their own fight with the USDA; some say the rule provides consumers with more information and should be retained while others are concerned that the rule causes a rift in international trade and imposes more costs on packers.

A separate lawsuit in that matter is ongoing.

The COOL rule also saw its share of discussion in the Farm Bill negotiations at the start of the year; some legislators attempted to ensure it could not be enforced with amendments to the bill, though none were retained in the final bill, signed in February.

Continue reading the Wall Street Journal report, "WTO Panel Decides Against U.S. in Meat-Labeling Dispute" (subscription).

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