The World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel has made public what insiders have known for awhile: The U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) is in violation of international trade rules. This is not news. The WTO has ruled against COOL in the past.
Canada and Mexico have decided to move forward with retaliation. It is hard to tell exactly what this means for U.S. pork producers, but we do know that it will not be good. And it could be devastating. Mexico and Canada are some of the most important export markets for U.S. pork producers.
And it is not only pork producers who will suffer, but other sectors of the economy could also be hit hard, including beef, corn, soybeans, and many other non-agriculture related parts of the economy. The jobless rate will go up. And the dollar loss to the economy could be enormous. To see what it might mean to your state, check this website for your state’s impact of WTO non-compliance.
But this is a political problem, not an economic one at the moment. And this problem should be obvious to every legislator, especially to the handful of U.S. Senate and House members who have the power to avoid this train wreck.
For various reasons, those key legislators decided not to include COOL reform in the farm bill this year. But now it is time to act.
There are some promising signs that the U.S. will change. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has said he wants to repeal the disputed rules. Senator Debbie Stabenow was a little less forthcoming by suggesting we should simply seek a balance between consumer interests and international trade.
December is a time when must-pass bills are taken up. But, there are powerful and passionate members of the public who oppose any change to COOL, regardless of the consequences. They insist that U.S. consumers have a right to know where their food comes from.
It is entirely possible that the House and the Senate will soon be controlled by Republicans. If that happens, it is more likely that business interests will prevail over those of consumers, especially with the leverage the WTO ruling gives them.
For pork producers and many others, the candidates for whom they vote this year may mean a big difference in their bottom line next year. Better make sure a note has been put on your calendar for November 4.