The World Trade Organization is giving the United States, Canada and Mexico two more months to decide whether to appeal its November ruling that U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling laws unfairly hurt agricultural commerce.

Canada and Mexico had filed the original complaints back in December 2008, disputing provisions of the U.S. Food, Conservation and Energy Act that impose the retail labeling for beef and pork among other perishable foods, according to a Bloomberg report. The United States’ two North American Free Trade Agreement partners, argue the labeling imposes unfair costs on their exports and damages their competitiveness.

At the request of trade officials in Canada, Mexico and the United States, WTO's Dispute Settlement Body agreed on Jan. 5, to delay the deadline regarding the adoption or appeal of COOL requirements to March 23, according to a WTO news release.

The National Pork Producers Council opposes the COOL law, as open and fair trade is increasingly important to pork producers. More than 22 percent of the United States’ annual pork production is now being exported to other countries. For 2011, exports helped push hog prices to record highs, adding more than $50 per head for the year.

Specifically to these trade partners, Mexico is the No. 1 volume customer for U.S. pork exports, and the No. 2 value customer behind Japan. While not all the 2011 numbers are in, October set a record pace for U.S. pork sales to Canada up 13 percent in volume and 18 percent in value versus in 2010.

On the retail side, a long-standing opponent of origin labeling, the Food Marketing Institute (which represents the retail food industry) welcomed WTO's ruling.

“The World Trade Organization recognized what the supermarket industry has known all along: that COOL is a protectionist law designed to make it more costly and difficult for retailers to sell imported foods," Erik Lieberman, FMI regulatory counsel, said in a news release. "COOL has forced the industry to spend tens millions of dollars each year on unnecessary regulatory burdens all for little or no benefit to consumers."

COOL regulations will need to be repealed or rewritten in order for the United States to meet its obligations to global trading partners. Lieberman said in the release.