This is definitely a historic date for livestock industries in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The WTO recognizes, as do most others a cow is a cow is a cow, and a pig is a pig is a pig, no matter where born, raised, processed and eaten.
On May 18, 2015, the WTO Appellate Body rejected the final appeal of the United States of a series of rulings that Mandatory U.S. Country of Origin Labelling discriminates against imported livestock in violation of U.S. trade obligations.
The ruling clears the way for Canada and Mexico to apply to impose retaliatory tariffs on a wide range of U.S. imports.
Andrew Dickson, the general manager of Manitoba Pork says changes to M-COOL proposed by Congress are cause for optimism, but they still must clear several hurdles.
However, the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee cleared a huge hurdle by approving a bill to repeal labelling requirements for beef, pork and chicken.
Dickson says the speed with which Congress has responded came as a surprise but the bill still needs to go to Congress for a vote and the U.S. Senate.
“We know there’s some strong feelings about COOL amongst some of the senators with strong supporters for it and there are some that think it needs to be repealed,” he says. “So that will be a step, which we’ll probably hear something on that in the next couple of weeks as to what the senate is going to do.”
In the U.S. system both houses have to propose legislation, it comes together once it’s got voted on in both houses, the Representatives and in the Senate and then it comes to a thing which they call conference. They merge the two bills in a committee.
“There’s a conference committee where they get together, sort the differences out, come to an agreement and then a joint bill is then brought back to both houses for voting on so this is going to take some time and it could easily take us into the fall,” said Dickson.
He says right now they’re talking about repealing the legislation but through the process people might try to add something that could bring us back to a position other than repeal.
“None the less, things have never looked so good in terms of getting this resolved so, if everything goes right, there’s a possibility this could be fixed by Christmas,” adds Dickson.
George Matheson, the chair of Manitoba Pork says, generally speaking, no one is in favor of retaliation so the hope is the U.S. changes the legislation, thereby eliminating M-COOL returning all three countries to free trade and get on with business.
“We feel the best outcome would be if the U.S. decided to repeal their legislation and made changes to COOL that would satisfy Canadian and Mexican and ultimately WTO interests, perhaps it becoming voluntary,” he said. “We do have the option now of placing trade tariffs on U.S. products but I think most people would feel that COOL would still be in place, everyone would lose.”
Matheson says it is quite likely red meats would be one of the items tariffed and if pork is included, Canada would penalize the product on which the Canadian hog farmer’s price is based.
“Our price is based on the U.S. pork market so ultimately we’re hoping that Congress will change the wording in the legislation so that tariffs will not be put in place on U.S. imports,” he adds. “This ruling was not a surprise and red meat producers in both Canada and the U.S. are delighted with the outcome.”  •
— By Harry Siemens