A COOL Refresher — Fourth and Final WTO Ruling To Come Within Days


A fourth and final decision from the World Trade Organization on U.S. mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) rules will be announced in the next few days. The WTO has said its decision on the Americans’ latest appeal to maintain COOL will be shared with members no later than May 18th.

Another ruling in Canada and Mexico’s favour would give both countries the right to request retaliation, the final step in the WTO’s dispute settlement process.

The looming threat of retaliation is creating pressure to resolve the labeling dispute in Washington, said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz after the G20 ag ministerial meeting in Turkey last week. Ritz indicated he had a “very candid” conversation with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding COOL.

“He recognizes now the economic hurt this is actually doing to his own industry, so he has given instructions to the administration to bring forward a piece of legislation that will either look at a NAFTA label, which would encompass us, or something that would seek to repeal what COOL was done. I’m firmly in the camp of repeal,” said Ritz.

“Tom is on-board fully now saying we have to work together. We can no longer negate the intricacies of the North American marketplace,” the minister continued. “I welcome the change. The epiphany he had on the way to Istanbul, I guess, was resounding.”

How did the dispute over COOL get to this point? Check out the timeline below:

COOL Refresher

If it feels like the COOL issue has dragged on for a long time, that’s because it has. It’s been 13 years since Canadian livestock groups started lobbying against the U.S. labeling rules.

May 13, 2002 — The 2002 U.S. Farm Bill becomes law, requiring retailers to inform consumers of the country of origin for perishable agricultural commodities.

June 2002 — Canadian hog sector representatives distribute pamphlets opposing COOL at the World Pork Expo in Iowa.

2003 and 2005 —Implementation of mandatory COOL for cattle and hogs is delayed.

June 18, 2008 — The 2008 U.S. Farm Bill becomes law, maintaining the 2002 Farm Bill mandate to implement COOL.

August 1, 2008 — The US Department of Agriculture’s interim rule for COOL is published.

September 24, 2008 — Shaun Haney publishes the first post on RealAgriculture.com.

September 30, 2008 — The interim rule for COOL takes effect. Canadian cattle and hog values are discounted and exports drop as U.S. packers begin to segregate animals to meet the labeling requirements. Rather than tracking Canadian cattle and pigs, U.S. meat packing companies refuse to accept them — COOL Rears Its Ugly Head.

January 20, 2009 — Barack Obama becomes U.S. President.

March 16, 2009 — The final rule for COOL is implemented, making country of origin labeling mandatory for muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.

April 28, 2009 — Minister for International Trade Stockwell Day (yes, he was still trade minister then) announces that Canada will request consultations at the WTO regarding COOL. Mexico joins Canada in asking the World Trade Organization to review COOL in mid-May.

November 18, 2011 — The WTO Dispute Panel rules in Canada’s favour, saying COOL discriminates against Canadian livestock in the U.S. market. (The first ruling against the U.S.)

March 23, 2012 — The U.S. government announces it will appeal the WTO Dispute Panel ruling.

June 29, 2012 — Following the appeal process, the WTO upholds the Dispute Panel ruling that COOL results in less favourable treatment to imported Canadian cattle and hogs than to domestic cattle and hogs. An arbitrator later sets the deadline for compliance as May 23rd, 2013. (The second ruling against the U.S.)

May 23, 2013 — U.S. Implements Changes to COOL — The U.S. government tweaks COOL with new labeling requirements, arguing the changes bring the legislation into WTO compliance. The Canadian and Mexican governments disagree, saying the amendments increase the discrimination against imported livestock.

June 7, 2013 — The Canadian government publishes a list of U.S. products that could face retaliatory tariffs totaling approximately $1.1 billion (the list can be found here.)

September 25, 2013 — The WTO grants Canada’s request for a compliance panel to decide whether the May 23rd, 2013 changes to COOL meet the Americans’ international trade obligations.

February 7, 2014 — Cattle Industry’s Beef Ignored, Farm Bill Signed Anyway — Barack Obama signs the 2014 Farm Bill, extending provisions for COOL.

October 20, 2014 — WTO Rules Against U.S. on COOL (Again) — The WTO Compliance Panel sides with Canada again, saying U.S. amendments to COOL continue the discrimination against live imports of cattle and hogs. The past-president of the Canadian Pork Council discusses the possibility that proceeds from retaliatory tariffs could be used to reimburse livestock producers for losses caused by COOL. (The third ruling against the U.S.)

November 28, 2014 — U.S. Appeals WTO mCOOL Ruling (Again); Appeal Postpones Possible Sanctions — Again, the U.S. government appeals the WTO compliance panel ruling.

February 2015 — U.S. Makes Final Argument for COOL at WTO. Ag Minister Gerry Ritz declares “COOL is on life support.”

May 4, 2015 — USDA Finds Little, if any, Economic Benefit From COOL — a USDA study finds COOL does not translate into increased consumer demand, and benefits do not offset higher production costs and retail prices.

May 18, 2015? — WTO Appellate Body shares its decision on U.S. appeal to maintain COOL — the fourth and final ruling from the WTO on COOL.


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