The battle over the United States’ mandatory country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) law is heating up again as a new coalition of U.S. industry groups are pressuring Congress to take action ahead of an anticipated World Trade Organization decision whether or not the COOL law is compliant with trade obligations.
The new coalition, which includes nearly 60 organizations, including livestock groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and the North American Meat Association, as well as broader industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufactures and more, sent a letter this week to leadership on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees asking Congress to step in and direct USDA to “suspend indefinitely the revised COOL rule if it is found to be in violation of U.S. international trade obligations.”
"If Congress fails to ensure that U.S. COOL requirements comply with our international obligations, U.S. jobs and manufacturing will be put at risk," said Linda Dempsey, Vice President of International Economic Affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.
After a 2011 WTO ruling that certain COOL requirements discriminated against foreign livestock and are not consistent with U.S. WTO trade obligations, USDA revised the law and implemented a new set of COOL requirements in May 2013. The new labeling requirements for covered meat products require details of each production step, including where the animal is born, raised and slaughtered, to be on the MCOOL label. Additionally, the final rule prohibited the use of the multi-country label and eliminated the mixed-origin label.
Just one day after the final rule went into effect, Canada and Mexico objected to the WTO saying the final rule will not bring the United States into compliance. The WTO is expected to issue its final report on the revised U.S. COOL law in late July. Canada and Mexico have indicated they will retaliate against the U.S. if it is found noncompliant by imposing tariffs and duties on a vast array of U.S. products.
In addition to including live cattle and hogs and meat products, the list released by Canada also contained fresh fruits, grains, pasta, bread and other pastries, wine, ketchup, certain metals, jewelry, mattresses and more. The Mexican government has not released a list of commodities but has indicated it too will impose a wide range of trade sanctions affecting many sectors in the United States.
“Together Canada, Mexico and the United States make up one of the most competitive and successful regional economic platforms in the world,” said Jodi Bond, vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The disruption of that partnership by WTO noncompliance would have a devastating economic impact on industries including food production, agriculture, and manufacturing.”
In the letter to Congress, the groups said a finding of non-compliance would result in serious economic harm to the U.S. and that it would be “intolerable for the United States to maintain, even briefly, a rule that has been deemed non-compliant by the WTO.”
A late July ruling out of the WTO does not leave Congress much time to take action due to the August break and light congressional schedule this fall leading up to the midterm elections in November. That is why the groups are asking Congress authorize and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to indefinitely suspend the law if the WTO finds it is not compliant.