Andrew Dickson, the general manager of Manitoba Pork says following the WTO hearing in Geneva while waiting to catch a flight home from Toronto to Winnipeg Saturday afternoon that he’s confident Canada will keep winning on the Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling [M-COOL] case with the United States.
A World Trade Organization appeal panel heard the final U.S. appeal of rulings that U.S. Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling violates American trading obligations.
“Two days starting Monday going until 7 or 8 o’clock at night which was unusual,” says Dickson. “A lot of material covered and the Americans tried to introduce new arguments using different clauses and their previous trade agreements to try and get the panel to accept that point of view.”
He thinks the panel members weren’t keen on the idea of having the American lawyers asking them to review new arguments with new evidence, not on the line of argument with their previous treaties in contest here.
Dickson says essentially Canada’s main arguments are around these technical barriers to trade. Most everyone agrees that what the Americans did when first implementing M-COOL and tightening them up even more after losing in the first round at the WTO was create something that put the Canadians and Mexicans in a non-competitive position in the U.S. domestic market.
“But the issue is, the U.S. is entitled to do that because of domestic reasons that override it,” he says. “I think the U.S. argument is along those lines to try and push this a little further than they have in the past introducing new evidence and I don’t think it went over very well with the panel members.”
While saying that, Dickson thinks it is hard to judge because they (the panelists) were very courteous and listened to all the sides, even the Europeans made some arguments as well as some other countries.
“It is very legalistic, with a lot of definition things bandied around and interpretation of those definitions,” he says. “People have to understand this whole area of consumer legislation, regulation, and information, is all relatively new in terms of international trade agreements.”
In this case where the U.S. thinks it must inform the consumer of the origin of their meat, but as a consequence of that it is putting countries like Canada and Mexico at a disadvantage under their market because it creates segregation, therefore it creates costs, and difficulties for the processors and retailers, and inadvertently pushes Canadian and Mexican meat products out of the U.S. market place, he adds.
Therefore this could be a very important ruling.
“I’m confident that we will continue to win. It is very likely that we will be in a position to go back to Geneva in early summer to ask for authority to impose retaliatory measures on the United States,” he said.
Dickson maintains that once the various hearings, appeals, and panels are all completed, this ruling will set precedent for a number of other issues in terms of consumer labelling. Not only in meat products, but dairy products, and other foodstuffs companies ship into countries,  for processing, repackaging, and eventual distribution for sale in some way or other.
“It is a big thing in Europe as you go into supermarkets, with a major attempt underway to try to identify all the various ingredients in the food and where they come from,” he says. “It is very confusing and I’m not actually convinced a lot of consumer sit there and worry about it.”
He thinks, and many surveys show it, consumers are much more interested in whether some credible body has properly inspected and put their stamp of approval on it, and is it safe to eat. The price, quality, quantity and is it what they want for their family to eat.
“They want to know an appropriate authority, for example in U.S., the USDA stamp of approval is critical and then they worry about price, quality, and quantity,” says Dickson. “When someone buys their food and feeds it to their family, they want to know no one will get sick as a result.”  •
— By Harry Siemens